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Washington Waits for Benedict XVI

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By Carrie Gress

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).— Preparations are under way Tuesday as Americans prepare from near and far to welcome Benedict XVI to the United States for his first stop in the nation's capital.

The normally tranquil Catholic University of America (CUA) campus is bustling with gardeners, workers setting up fences and scaffolds, TV crews and reporters, all in preparation for the Pope's visit.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the Holy Father will pray Evening Prayer and address the U.S. bishops Wednesday, is decorated with white and gold flags. The bell tower is draped with a large welcome banner for the Pope that can be seen from blocks away. "With all the flowers out and the work that has been done, the campus has never looked so good," one student told ZENIT.

Gerry Giblin, a docent at the shrine, said that over the last several weeks the numbers of visitors to the basilica have gone up markedly and interest is on the rise. "I am happy to point out to people the particular path that the Holy Father will take upon entering the basilica, through the church, and then down into the crypt church where he will address the U.S. bishops."

"The basilica always looks beautiful, but now that the beautiful domes are completed, it is in wonderful shape for him to see it," said Giblin, commenting on the newly completed mosaics in the main church nave.

The shrine bookstore is stocked with commemorative mugs, prayer cards, books, rosaries and other items for pilgrims to purchase.

Students at CUA are also getting ready. Margaret Keller, a freshman from Mobile, Ala., sat at a booth in the student center handing out rosaries for students to participate in tonight's reciting of the Luminous Mysteries around the university campus to pray for the Pope's visit and his intentions. Excerpts from some of the Pontiff's writings will also be read while the students meditate on each mystery. On Wednesday, there will also be all-night adoration of the Eucharist, with students signing up to take an hour at a time.

When asked about non-Catholic student reaction to the event, Keller said that they too have joined in the excitement. "The Pope's visit has created a kind of unity among the students. Even the non-Catholics are getting involved. It has also boosted the faith of those who are Catholic, while also getting us to read more of the Pope's writings."

Downtown
At the White House, where the Pontiff will be received by President George Bush on Wednesday, things also look a bit different. The Eisenhower Office Building is flying several papal flags along with the American flags.

Helena Metzger of the Catholic Information Center (CIC), a bookstore and the closest chapel to offer Mass to White House and K-Street Catholics, reports that they sold out of prayer cards for the event in just three days.

"People are really looking for something to commemorate the event. They don't just want something with the Pope's face on it, but they want something specific to this event as a way of remembrance. Many think this might be the only time they will be able to see him in the United States, especially since he turns 81," said Metzger, as she helped two women who had come all the way from Phoenix, Arizona for the papal visit.

The Holy Father will celebrate his birthday while in the United States, on Wednesday.

From a distance
For the many contemplative religious who will not be able to make the journey to Washington and New York, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, requested that each community pray for a particular event during the five-day visit.

The Carmel of Maria Regina in Eugene, Ore., said their community decided that each sister would take an event or two to pray for each day, offering up their prayers and sacrifices for the Pope's visit. "This way, we cover all the events with our prayers," said Mother Elizabeth, the community's director. "We are very excited to be able to contribute from so far away."

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