"Bavarian Blue," exclaimed a German-American friend, pointing to the sky two hours before the Pope from Bavaria was due to land at Andrews AFB —and then he repeated it in German which, unfortunately, I can't reproduce. If Bavarian Blue is a particularly gorgeous shade, he was surely right — the sky on this sun-drenched spring afternoon in Washington was a rich azure that provided an ideal setting for Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in the U.S.
The Pope's Alitalia jetliner touched down at 3:51 p.m. and taxied to a stop at precisely the scheduled arrival time of 4. Twelve minutes later Pope Benedict walked, sprightly and smiling, out of the plane and down the steps. He was greeted by President and Mrs. Bush, First Daughter Jenna, and prominent churchmen including Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, stayed close by the Holy Father and a discreet half-step behind.
After a brisk walk past a military honor guard, Pope and President went to a private waiting area from which the Holy Father entered his limousine, the members of the papal party entered theirs, and the long drive from remote Andrews to the Apostolic Nunciature in Northwest Washington began.
By prior agreement, there were no formal greetings. That will come Wednesday morning, when Pope Benedict visits the President at the White House. Presidential press secretary Dana Perino supplied a brief look-ahead to what the President would say during today's noontime press briefing, stressing things on which the two men agree like the sanctity of human life and the importance of the "common moral law"--Pope Benedict's expression for natural law.
In reply to a question, Perino acknowledged that in 2003 the President and the Pope--he was Cardinal Ratzinger then--disagreed on Iraq. But now, she said, "I think that there is an understanding that with the strategy that's working in Iraq right now, the most important thing we can do is help to solidify the situation."
What Pope Benedict thinks about the U.S. "surge" strategy in Iraq is not known. He has deplored the continued bloodletting, however, while also making it clear that he is deeply concerned about the future of Chaldean Catholics, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled the country since the war to escape anti-Christian violence by extremists that has been likened to ethnic cleansing.
-- Russell Shaw