ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. – Welcomed by U.S. President George W. Bush and an array of church officials, Pope Benedict XVI began his first pastoral visit to the United States as pope Apr 15.

The papal plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The pope was to spend the next two days in Washington before travelling to New York Apr 18.

Although the two spoke privately for less than 10 minutes in a building on the air base grounds, neither Bush nor the pope delivered any formal remarks at the air base. The pope’s official welcome was to take place the next day at the White House.

It was the first time in his presidency that Bush had gone to Andrews to welcome any head of state. The air base has hosted more than 300 arrivals or departures by heads of state since 2006.

Joining the president in greeting Pope Benedict were first lady Laura Bush and the Bushes’ daughter Jenna.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said at an Apr 15 briefing before the pope’s arrival that Bush would tell the pontiff at the White House that "the hearts of the American people are open to the Holy Father’s message of hope".

Pope Benedict "will hear from the president that America and the world need to hear his message that God is love, that human life is sacred, that we all must be guided by common moral law, and that we have responsibilities to care for our brothers and sisters in need at home and across the world", Perino added.

Perino admitted that the pope and the president disagreed on issues such as the war in Iraq and the death penalty but said that "there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement".

After Pope Benedict spoke privately with the president, he and Archbishop Sambi boarded a limousine that was to take them to the apostolic nunciature, where the pope was to spend the night. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Owing to our printing schedule, we will only be able to cover the pope’s U.S. visit in detail in the next issue of CatholicNews. Below is a report of what the pope said in an early April statement about his visit to the U.S. and United Nations.

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