- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics around the world yesterday to pray for his trip to the United States, saying he hoped it would lead to a spiritual renewal of America’s faithful.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you all to pray for the success of my visit, so that it may be a time of spiritual renewal for all Americans,” the pontiff said, addressing the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.

The German-born pope leaves tomorrow for a six-day trip to the United States, his first as pontiff, with stops in Washington and New York.

He will address the United Nations, hold talks with President Bush and pray at the site of the World Trade Center towers, which were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

The pope also is expected to raise thorny issues such as the sexual abuse scandal involving pedophile priests that shook the Catholic Church in the United States.

Mr. Bush is pulling out all the stops for the leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics, with plans to drive to a suburban military base to meet Benedict’s plane. Mr. Bush has never before given a visiting leader the honor of picking him up at the airport. In fact, no president has done so at Andrews Air Force Base, the typical landing spot for modern leaders.

A crowd of up to 12,000 is due at the White House on Wednesday morning for the pope’s official, pomp-filled arrival ceremony.

It will feature the anthems of the United States and the Holy See, a 21-gun salute and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

Both men will make remarks before their Oval Office meeting and a send-off for his popemobile down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House crowd will be the largest of Mr. Bush’s presidency, even bigger than the 7,000-member audience last spring for Queen Elizabeth II.

The evening festivities at the White House will mark the pope’s 81st birthday. The menu of Bavarian-style food will celebrate his German heritage.

Benedict’s prayer service that evening with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception preclude him from attending the dinner in his honor. Catholic leaders will attend instead.

The president explained the special treatment, particularly the airport greeting.

“One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn’t come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith,” Mr. Bush told the Eternal World global television network in an interview that aired Friday.

He added that he wants to honor Benedict’s conviction that “there’s right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies.”

The Bush-Benedict meeting will be the 25th between a pope and a sitting U.S. president.

The first was not until shortly after the end of World War I, when President Wilson was received at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XV in 1919.

The next wasn’t for 40 more years, when President Eisenhower met with Pope John XXIII in Rome.

President Carter hosted the first White House visit by a pope, when John Paul II arrived on Oct. 6, 1979.

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