Freeze Frame: Pope Benedict visits The White House
Thursday 17 April 2008
Pope Benedict XVI met George Bush yesterday at the start of his first Papal visit to the US. The welcoming ceremony took place outside The White House. The story that the building was painted white to mask burn damage after a fire is untrue as the building has been white since its construction in 1798.
When not in Rome
The presence of the Vatican flag signifies a state visit: Vatican City is a separate state from Rome. The flat consists of two vertical bands, gold (on the hoist side) and white. The crossed keys of St Peter and the Papal tiara are centred in the white band. It's one of the two square flags in the world – the other being Swiss.
The United States Marine Band was formed by an Act of Congress signed by President John Adams in 1798. They are the oldest professional musical organisation in the US and their job is to provide music for the President. The band traditionally play "Hail to the Chief" to announce the President's arrival.
Pope Benedict – aka "God's Rottweiler" – is involved in something of a PR operation. He kicked off the US visit by telling journalists on the flight over that he was "ashamed" of the scandal in the US involving paedophile priests. It is only the second time that a pope has visited The White House. Yesterday was also his 81st birthday.
President Bush is one of the most openly religious Presidents modern America has had. He is a daily Bible reader and has talked publicly of hearing "God's call" to run for president and admitted praying for God's help since being in office. However, his position on matters such as abortion and homosexuality are unclear.
The Pope's cardinals, the most senior members of the Catholic Church, are collectively known as the College of Cardinals and it is they who choose a new Pope. There are 183 cardinals in the Vatican City but only a handful of them were picked to make the long journey to America.
Lawn and order
The South Lawn is often used for photo opportunities, since the building is more flatteringly lit from the south side, and Pennysylvania Avenue doesn't get in the shot. The South Lawn is also the venue for The White House's annual Easter egg roll and the annual Thanksgiving Presidential "pardoning" of a turkey.
Signed and sealed
The Presidential Seal pictures an American bald eagle with a ribbon in its beak with the motto of the United States: "E pluribus unum", meaning "Out of many, one". The eagle clutches an olive branch in one foot (to symbolise peace) and a bunch of arrows in the other (to symbolise defence of the nation).
Approximately 9,000 ticket holders were admitted to the official welcoming of the Pope (a larger audience than that for the Queen on her official visit in May last year). Other big cheeses invited to the ceremony include Dick and Lynne Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and 146 Catholic members of Congress.
Brown and out
Notably absent from the proceedings was our own Gordon Brown. He is also in Washington, but received a lukewarm reception compared with the Pontiff. The Prime Minister's itinerary (which local newspapers have all-but ignored) includes a visit to the UN and meeting presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
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