- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thousands without access to Pope Benedict XVI’s official events began gathering outside the White House early yesterday. By noon, hundreds more were waiting along Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street Northwest to see the start of the popemobile procession.

Vendors along the route hawked T-shirts, buttons and banners bearing the pope’s image. Choruses of “Alleluia” were accompanied by the sounds of tambourines and drums. Spectators waved yellow-and-white Vatican flags and signs with messages that included “Bienvenido Benedict XVI,” “Benedict XVI Wilkommen” and “You Rock.”

The multicultural crowd basked in the springtime weather. Parents with young children stood next to teens wearing ball caps and working professionals in suits and ties.

“I am here to show him my thanks,” said Melissa Torres, 22, who came with family from Brooklyn, N.Y., and sat atop a utility box for a better view. “He brings families together. He represents God, and God is love. We’re following him everywhere he goes.”

Small groups of protesters assembled in Lafayette Park, near the White House, and outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast to rally against the Catholic Church’s handling of the pedophile priest scandal.

T.J. Piggott, 25, stepped outside his Pennsylvania Avenue office with a digital camera as the procession neared.

“I need to take a picture for my grandma. She’s a hard-core Catholic,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to see the pope, either.”

As the motorcade passed, the pope smiled and waved as many in the crowd surged forward to snap photos.

Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Junis Fletcher reported no security concerns or major traffic problems.

Patricia Long, a Salvadoran native who lives in Alexandria, wiped away tears as the pope passed.

“It’s really a blessing; this is wonderful,” said Mrs. Long, who moved to the United States in 1979. “We need all the hope we can get. We’re a pessimistic people, and it’s good to still see there’s a symbol of love for us.”

The 20-minute procession started west on Pennsylvania Avenue, then moved north on Rock Creek Parkway toward the papal residence near the U.S. Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest.

Martha Leonard, 53, brought her granddaughter, Jalen Green, 8, to the barricade closest to the residence.

“We wanted to greet our Holy Father and show him how much we love him,” said Mrs. Leonard, of Bethesda.

Jalen held a handmade sign that read “Happy b-day Papa!” in honor of the pope’s 81st birthday.

Traffic in the area was slowed by police barricades of the two northbound lanes of Massachusetts Avenue. At the Apostolic Nunciature, barricades kept spectators blocks away.

Kathleen Pacious, 21, wore a white T-shirt that read: “I love BXVI.”

She and three classmates from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., held signs in English and in Latin that read: “Benedict stay with us!”

In the afternoon, hundreds greeted Benedict as he left the basilica in the secure popemobile.

Patrick Kerrigan, 44, brought his 13-year-old son, Christian, a student at St. James Catholic School in Falls Church, to “bear witness.” He called the pope “a man of good will.”

Said Christian: “I just really wanted to see him. It’s once in a lifetime that the pope comes to your hometown.”

Sterling Meyers contributed to this report.

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