Saturday, 2:15 PM
Today, Pope Benedict XVI’s first full day in the United States, is also the pontiff’s 81st birthday, and the day will feature a mix of pomp and substance.
The primary birthday celebration will be a lunch with the American cardinals – including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston – at the nunciature, which is the Embassy Row manse of the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. No word yet as to what will be on the menu.
But the two weightiest events of the day are a morning visit to the White House, at which the pope will meet privately for about 45 minutes in the Oval Office with President Bush, and an afternoon session with all the American bishops, at which the pope will deliver an address.
At the White House, a welcoming party of as many as 9,000 people are expected to gather on the South Lawn for what presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino described as “one of the largest arrival ceremonies ever held at the White House.’’ All the bells and whistles the White House can muster will be on display, including a 21-gun salute, a Marine band playing the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States, trumpets and flowers and, of course, dignitaries galore, including Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, the Harvard law professor Bush chose to be his representative to the Holy See. The American soprano Kathleen Battle, who has had a long professional association with Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, will sing "The Lord's Prayer" -- a song choice that Perino yesterday explained by saying "many people across America and across the world say that prayer in order to provide themselves comfort and confidence in getting their day started. And so we think it's perfectly appropriate."
Perino had quite a bit to say about expectations for the visit yesterday, and you can read more about that here.
The day promises to be picture perfect – the forecast for Washington today is sunny with a high of 69.
After the White House meeting, Benedict will take his first spin through town in his white Mercedes-Benz popemobile.
This evening, Benedict will lead a vespers service with the US bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he will also deliver a speech to the bishops.
The White House is holding a dinner in honor of the pope's visit, but he's not attending. Instead, at about 7:30 tonight, it's back to the nunciature for sleep.
For all the blog posts on the papal visit, go here.
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff
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