Behind the Scenes: Pope Benedict XVI Visits U.S.

This blog entry is written byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State.

The past few days have been busy ones for the Office of Protocol. In 2007, we began preparations for the visit to the U.S. by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Since that time, our office has been coordinating with the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese in Washington and New York City, The United States Secret Service, The White House and local authorities. All members of the team, especially the Papal delegation and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archdioceses, have been so gracious to work with. Meetings were held, contingency plans were made, and diagrams constructed; every thing was in place and ready for execution.

U.S. Air Force Standing at Attention Awaiting Arrival of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. [White House photo by Chris Greenberg] The events on Tuesday and Wednesday far exceeded my expectations. Every detail was so well executed, they were glorious events. The coordination of services between all the moving parts were executed in precision and professionalism.

Tuesday we arrived at Andrews Air Force Base early to prepare to greet His Holiness. The stands were full of people and there was great enthusiasm from the crowd. Bishop McNamara High School Band played beautiful and spirited music while we waited for the arrival. The Alitalia jetliner touched down on the tarmac as we walked down the red carpet with the delegation of Archbishops and His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

DOS/Yale Scott]As we approached the plane I thought about what I would say to the Holy Father and how I would welcome him on behalf of the United States Government and the American people. I asked His Excellency Sambi what I should say to the Holy Father after the standard protocol formalities and he said just invite him to come to meet the President and welcome him with your big smile. At that moment I became somewhat nervous. I was welcoming an important religious leader to our country. I thought the warmth I am able to show will let him know just how much regard America has for him. This was no different than welcoming someone you respect and revere into your home. I boarded the plan and greeted His Holiness to the United States of America. He was so gracious and he smiled and took the time to thank me and made me feel completely at ease. This was a solemn moment for me. I could just feel a certain joy, strength and a real enthusiasm and aura of understanding how important this visit was. He was very warm, very engaging, and very happy that we had met. He's obviously a person who really cares about people.

 Dept. of State/Yale Scott]As we proceeded down the jet way, I could see the President, Mrs. Bush and their daughter Jenna preparing to move from the Distinguished Visitor lounge at Andrews Air Force Base.

The plan to meet the Holy Father was to walk down the red carpet towards the plane as he moved down the jet way. It all worked perfectly and the President and Mrs. Bush introduced him to delegation. As the Holy Father descended steps the crowd erupted in a cheering roar and then there was almost stillness as if everyone realized this was an historic moment. As a person who has been fortunate to lead a movement in my prior and private capacity life, I could feel the mood and the adoration of the crowd. Hardly any of us had a dry eye! It was very moving.

 WH/Shealah Craighead] Wednesday morning started very early for the Protocol department. Our team headed by Bryan Langley was very involved along with the White House staff and advance teams to prepare for the South Lawn Ceremony at the White House. The morning was sunny and weather looked really good and we all breathed a sigh of relief. My day started with early morning television interviews including Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends and CNN International.

President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, seen from Truman Balcony of the White House, stand together on the reviewing stand during the welcoming ceremony for the Pope on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, April 16, 2008. [White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian]Later that morning as we entered the White House grounds the more than 10,000 participants and guests were entered the grounds of the South Lawn. The various teams involved in the event were all rehearsing, finalizing last minute details and walking through movements and scenarios…..all but Secret Service who were, as always, well positioned in very strategic places.

When I first arrived at the White House, I participated in a walk-thru of the exact path the Holy Father would take as he entered in his motorcade to the White House Grounds. Also participating in the walk-thru were members of the Vatican Embassy, the members of the Archdiocese of Washington and the great assembly of delegates from the Holy See. Before the ceremony began, there was a diplomatic reception with Secretary Rice, Cabinet members and leaders of the House and the Senate for the Delegation of the Holy See.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers a message to thousands of invited guests Wednesday, April 16, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. [White House photo by Grant Miller]Outside on the White House Lawn the crowd grew and the bands played. The Holy Father arrived by motorcade to the circular drive on the South Lawn at the White House and was met by President and Mrs. Bush. President Bush escorted His Holiness to the reviewing platform and the program began. The crowd cheered and erupted into a chorus of Happy Birthday, as Wednesday was the 81st birthday of the Holy Father. The program was dignified and moving. There was a 21-Gun Salute, the National Anthem of the Holy See, the National Anthem of the United States, a Musical Troop review, a beautiful musical rendition of The Lord's Prayer and remarks by President Bush and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. At the conclusion of the ceremony the Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung and the crowd joined in by waving their U.S. and Vatican flags.

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush lead the celebration of the 81st birthday of Pope Benedict XVI as he's presented a cake by White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses Wednesday, April 16, 2008, at the White House. [White House photo by Eric Draper]After the ceremony, we re-entered the White House where the Holy Father was introduced to the entire U.S. and Catholic delegation and took pictures. Then President and Mrs. Bush had a birthday cake for him and we all sang Happy Birthday.

The President then walked the Holy Father to the Oval Office for a meeting between the two leaders.

At the conclusion of the meeting as we watched the Holy Father get into his Popemobile, we broke out in smiles and satisfaction that this portion of the visit went as well as could humanly be done.

The ceremony, the day, and the words of the speeches were harmonious and full of hope and inspired us all.

This successful visit is due to the hard-working staff in the Protocol Office and I would like to recognize each one who has been involved with the visit. Many thanks to Bryan Langley, Tanya Turner, Dean Lewis, Ray Martinez, Charity Wallace, Tiffany Divis, Matthew Wendel, Jessie Johnson, Christine Hathaway, Penny Price, Jennifer Nicholson, Yale Scott, Katy Ballenger Mitarai, Walter Rhinehart, Thomas Rathburn and Emery Webb.



Zeno D.
April 18, 2008

Zeno in Switzerland writes:

A big day for the free world! Thank you for your great and detailed reporting!

Tennessee, USA
April 18, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

1. I truly hope His trip is safe and his Spiritual and humanitarian efforts taken note of. He is a wonderful man in that regard from what they report.

2. If there truly is separation of Church and State in Politics, I hope he realizes the cost of free and cheap labor of immigrants here and not force decisions predicated on his desire to enhance the coffers of the church with the increased population base they contribute. His efforts need to be made with the Mexican and Latin countries Leadership for them to equally share their abundant wealth. These are no longer poor countries and have no reason for not providing for their people. I say this as I understand this was one of his concerns on our new immigration bills. He needs to put the blame where it belongs, their perspective country of origin.

3. What Free world? The Catholic Church demonized Napoleon because he started Free Public Libraries, Public Schools and took control of the dynamics of Intelligence away from the Church. In effect, they gave promotion to slavery and serfdoms throughout history, selling false hope to the poor and taking payments to Purgatory for the rich or acceptance of their actions due to the Divine Right to rule. To this day there are two sets of laws within Church doctrine: Rich and Poor. I won't even get into the Masonic concerns of today and yesteryear?

4. Hopefully this Pope will update the conception that the last time the Churches controlled the world it was called the Dark Ages. They seem to welcome technology, but what about updating the rest? Perhaps we need a President who will talk to them about some changes that will benefit all.

5. Somehow it seems to me Jesus would feed more people with the money this affair cost... I'd be more impressed if He rode in a Prius or on a donkey. Jesus did not fear death. It is a shame this world would even consider hurting such a holy man, so I do understand the practicality of it all.

All Good is needed in this world and most people of this world are looking for leaders who demonstrate action, not words today. I fear that the Pope needs to be more of the "Shoes of the Fisherman" that Anthony Quinn portrayed in 1968.

Like most problems not resolved today, it is due primarily to the fact that most World Leaders are too far from the people they represent to actually help, have forgotten where they come from, alienated by office or never had to live within the scope of the poor.

Oklahoma, USA
April 18, 2008

Imogene in Oklahoma writes:

This is a very exciting time for the Pope's visit. I am proud of the State Department's welcoming committee and the coverage of this historic visit. May God continue to bless your work.

New Jersey, USA
April 25, 2008

Catherine in New Jersey writes:

WELL DONE Amb. Brinker! What an exciting and historic moment. I was fully enthralled with all the coverage and thinking of you and your highly capable staff, in particular, Tanya Turner who worked with me in the White House Social Office. We are all very fortunate to have all of you representing America. All the best!

New York, USA
May 4, 2008

Andrew in New York writes:

Excellent job to all.....Well done. Proud to be an American.

Pope Benedict's plane lands at Andrews AFB.
Nancy Brinker precedes Pope Benedict in debarking.
Nancy Brinker faces the Pope's delegation.
Pope Benedict XVI salutes the welcoming crowd at Andrews AFB.
Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the White House.
Benedictus XVI and Bush White House Lawn
President Bush presents the Pope with a birthday cake.
The Pope visits in the Oval Office.
Posted by Nancy Brinker
April 17, 2008


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