For those who aren't familiar with the Apostolic Nunciature where Pope Benedict will be staying for the next three nights, here's a brief guide..
The Vatican embassy--the Nunciature (from "Nuncio," the title of the Holy See's ambassador) is on upper Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, in the heart of Washington's Embassy Row. On one side stands the embassy of Finland (currently with a huge banner across its facade announcing a photo exhibit by a Finnish photographer named Rax Rinnekangas), the embassy of Norway is on the opposite corner, and just down the street and in back of the Nunciature is the embassy of Belgium.
Directly across Massachusetts Avenue are the spacious grounds of the old Naval Observatory, dominated by the Victorian mansion that's the official residence of the Vice President of the United States. Commuters who use this route are accustomed to seeing Vice President Cheney and his security escort heading to the White House and returning home.
Two Orthodox churches, one Russian and one Greek, are just up the street. But the neighborhood is dominated by the splendid faux-Gothic (Episcopal) National Cathedral. Its site, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues, is the highest ground in the city, and the great church itself looks out across Rock Creek Park and miles of urban neighborhoods to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the chief feature on the skyline of Northeast Washington as the cathedral is in the city's Northwest quadrant.
The Apostolic Nunciature is a white stone three-story building of high ceilings and spacious rooms, with a grand staircase leading from the entrance foyer (and the main chapel) to the second floor. There the visitor finds three large rooms used for receptions and, around a corner and down a short hall, the Nuncio's office.
The embassy is not outstanding for works of art, the most notable being portraits of previous Nuncios (or Apostolic Delegates, as they were called in the days before the Holy See had diplomatic relations with the U.S.).
Overall, the building consists of a central section and two large wings flanking a courtyard. A small garden at the rear overlooks a steep hill leading down into a wooded valley, which undoubtedly will be filled with police and Secret Service during these days. For security reasons, the suite the Pope will occupy hasn't been disclosed, but presumably it, too, is at the rear of the house and overlooks the woods in the valley below. That should provide the Holy Father with a quiet refuge, while police, security vehicles, TV vans, and gawkers raise a din on the Massachusetts Avenue side.
The Catholic church closest to the Nunciature, Annunciation, is three or four minutes up the avenue. Priests from the Vatican embassy regularly help out there with weekday Masses. One of them did that at the 8 o'clock Mass this morning. The priest, a youngish Italian-American from New York who rides his motor scooter from the Nunciature to the parish, remarked in his homily that contemplation is the key to the renewal of the Church. As the hubbub over Pope Benedict's impending visit mounted just a short distance away, contemplation sounded like a good idea.
-- Russell Shaw