On his 81st birthday, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by military bands and an enthusiastic crowd of 9,000 at the White House. In his remarks, the pope urged peace through diplomacy and democracy, themes he's likely to invoke at the United Nations later this week.
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Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his birthday at the White House. Benedict turned 81 today. President Bush welcomed him on the South Lawn with a crowd of 9,000 people, and a couple of military bands.
In Benedict's first public remarks since arriving, he offered hints of the message he hopes to convey during a six-day visit in the U.S.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: On this glorious spring day, Benedict beamed in a grandfatherly way as the crowds sang happy birthday.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Then he looked on as President Bush said that in America, he would find a nation of prayer, religious freedom, and vibrancy. Mr. Bush invoked the Pope's signature phrase, a major theme of his Papacy.
GEORGE W: In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
BRADLEY HAGERTY: When it was his turn, Pope Benedict said he looked forward to meeting not only Catholics, but Americans of all faiths.
BENEDICT XVI: I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel, and one that has great respect for towards this vast, pluralistic society.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Unlike Europe whose churches are almost empty, Benedict noted that American's religiosity runs deep, dating back to the founding of the country.
XVI: From the dawn of St. Patrick, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the creator.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: And the creator, he said, was foremost in the Framer's thoughts when they declared that all men are created equal. The pope touched on themes he will likely speak of throughout the week - the plight of the poor worldwide, the need to infuse faith with reason and not just emotion, and the freedom to worship God. He then quoted his predecessor, John Paul II.
XVI: In reflecting on the future victory of freedom or totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, I quote, "that in a world without rules, freedom loses its foundation, and a democracy without values, can lose its very soul."
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Benedict also gave a preview of his message to the United Nations on Friday. Perhaps in a reference to the war in Iraq, he called for, quote, "international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress."
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President Bush welcomed Pope Benedict to Washington on Wednesday, in the first papal visit to the White House in nearly 30 years.
Speaking to a crowd of nearly 9,000 people gathered for a reception on the White House lawn, the pontiff reaffirmed his position on human rights.
After noting the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Benedict said, "the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity as brothers and sisters."
After a brief meeting between Benedict and Bush, the Vatican and the White House released a joint statement, which said that among several issues, the leaders spoke at length about problems in the Middle East. Benedict has opposed the war in Iraq.
Benedict called for the use of "patient efforts of international diplomacy" to resolve conflicts. He also said that democracy succeeds only when political leaders have a clear moral vision.
The pontiff, who is on a six-day trip to the U.S., was greeted on his 81st birthday Wednesday by an elaborate ceremony at the White House, featuring the U.S. and Vatican anthems and a 21-gun salute.
Benedict praised American society in his speech and made references to the founding fathers, citing the Declaration of Independence and George Washington.
Bush welcomed the pope, saying that in America he would "find a nation that welcomes the role of religion in the public square."
Thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to cheer as Pope Benedict and his motorcade passed. Benedict smiled and waved from his chair inside the glass-walled, white popemobile.
Read the Joint Statement from the White House and the Holy See:
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush met today in the Oval Office of the White House.
President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his Apostolic Journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope's upcoming visit to "Ground Zero" in New York.
During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States' substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.
The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.
The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.