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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

White House thousands greet Pope (Associated Press)

White House thousands greet Pope

Thousands of guests have welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the White House for his meeting with President George W. Bush.

The Pope was greeted with a singing of Happy Birthday on the day he turned 81.

Mr Bush said the Pope's message that "God is love" was needed to "save man from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism".

Pope Benedict said he had come as a friend of the US and urged Americans to use their faith to inspire "reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue".

This was the first visit by a pope to the White House in almost 30 years.

There were huge cheers as the Pope and Mr Bush took the podium for the national anthems of the Holy See and the US.

The Pope was treated to two Happy Birthdays, the first an impromptu rendition before a more formal chorus later. Famed soprano Kathleen Battle also sang The Lord's Prayer.

Mr Bush quoted St Augustine in greeting the Pope with the words "peace be with you".

Mr Bush said: "In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism."

He added: "In a world where some evoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love."

Such a message would "save man from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism," he said.

The Pope responded by saying he came as "a friend of the US".

He praised Americans for their "concern for the greater human family" and hoped this would "continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts".

The Pope added: "I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society."

He concluded: "God bless America".

BBC Rome correspondent David Willey, who is travelling with the pontiff, said Pope Benedict studiously avoided any direct reference to the war in Iraq or to the current campaign to elect a successor to President Bush.

He did however, our correspondent says, make an oblique reference to the tragic sacrifice of human lives caused by past conflicts and by implication, as a result of the current war in Iraq.

Abuse cases

The topic was discussed in the private talks, the White House said, with the leaders expressing concern about the plight of Iraq's Christian minority.

A joint statement said they both hoped for a "prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises" inflicting the Middle East.

One key issue the Pope said he would raise was immigration, as he feared the danger of family break-ups caused by mass migration of mainly Catholic people from Latin America.

The statement said the leaders considered "the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the wellbeing of their families".

"They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights," the statement said.

There was no reference in the statement to any discussion of the scandal that has cost the US Catholic Church $2bn (£1bn) in settling clergy sexual abuse cases.

The pontiff then left the White House for a short parade in his Popemobile.

The White House will hold a gala birthday dinner on Wednesday evening but the Pope will not be there - he will attend a prayer service in Washington instead.

The Pope will celebrate a Mass for 48,000 people in Washington on Thursday and another later at Yankee Stadium in New York. He will also address the UN General Assembly.

On Sunday he will visit the site of the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York.

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