Pope speaks out, prays during D.C. visit
Pope Benedict XVI moved Wednesday from a jubilant White House visit where he defended religion in the public square to a contemplative prayer service at a national RomanCatholic shrine, where he was expected to tell bishops that theymust heal the suffering caused by clergy sex abuse.
Benedict arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of theImmaculate Conception to deliver remarks to hundreds of U.S.prelates during a vespers service.
It was the end of a heady day for Benedict, who drew anenthralled crowd of 13,500 people to a South Lawn arrival ceremonyat the White House earlier in the day. The event turned into an81st birthday party for the pontiff, complete with singing and acake prepared by the White House pastry chef.
But the warm feelings didn't stop the pope from gently nudgingthe U.S. in a White House speech to use diplomacy to resolveinternational disputes. And differences on other issues also wereapparent.
"America has traditionally shown herself generous in meetingimmediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief tothe victims of natural catastrophes," the pope said. "I amconfident that this concern for the greater human family willcontinue to find expression in support for the patient efforts ofinternational diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promoteprogress."
Benedict and President Bush spoke alone in the Oval Office for45 minutes after the ceremony, and a joint statement said the two"reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as themanipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent actsagainst innocents."
It also said the leaders "touched on the need to confrontterrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person andhis or her rights," a reference White House press secretary DanaPerino could not explain.
Benedict has been critical of harsh interrogation methods,telling a meeting of the Vatican's office for social justice lastSeptember that, while a country has an obligation to keep itscitizens safe, prisoners must never be demeaned or tortured.
On Iraq, the discussion steered away from the war itself tofocus primarily on worries for the Christian minority in theMuslim-majority country, Perino said. Other topics included humanrights, religious freedom, fighting poverty and disease in Africa,the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Lebanon and terrorism.
Wednesday's session marked the 25th meeting between a RomanCatholic pope and a U.S. president, conferences that have spanned89 years, five pontiffs and 11 American leaders.
Benedict told the appreciative crowd that religion belongs inthe public square.
"The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation ofvirtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a senseof responsibility towards the less fortunate," he said. "It alsodemands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one'sdeepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate."
In brief remarks on the South Lawn, Bush showed off America,ticking off what he said are its best virtues, calling it a nationof prayer and compassion and one that is the most "innovative,creative and dynamic country on Earth" but also among the mostreligious.
But while acting like the proud custodian of his country, Bushalso seemed to suggest that America could use a little toughtalking-to by the pontiff.
"In a world where some treat life as something to be debasedand discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacredand that each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of usis necessary," the president said, drawing sustained applause.
Bush also said Americans should see Benedict's U.S. tour as areminder to "distinguish between simple right and wrong."
The pope not only drew admirers to the White House but also onthe streets of Washington, where crowds gathered to watch hismotorcade pass following the session there. Another throng waitedat the basilica Wednesday afternoon.
Benedict was to speak in the oldest section of the basilica,called the Crypt Church, which is designed to feel low and dark asa reminder of the early days of Christianity. For the second timein as many days, he was expected to address the issue of sex abuseby members of the clergy - confronting a scandal that has cost theU.S. church over $2 billion, much of it in the last six years.
The pope addressed the problem on his flight to the U.S., sayingthat he would fight to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.