16-April-2008 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Benedict XVI Gets Unprecedented Welcome, Praises U.S. Model of Faith-Secular State Relationship

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Maryland, APRIL 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI was welcomed to the United States today in an unprecedented reception by President George Bush.

Bush, accompanied by his wife and daughter Jenna, went to Andrews Air Force Base to receive the Pope -- an honor the president has never given to a visiting head of state.

The Holy Father, aboard an Alitalia Boeing 777, called Shepherd One, landed at the base under blue skies around 4 p.m., local time.

He was greeted by 800 students, members of military families, and parishioners from four Washington-area parishes.

During the flight, the Holy Father had a short press conference with some 70 journalists on board.

Responding to their questions, the Pope said that the secular state's relationship with faith as it exists in the United States is a "fundamental model" that should be imitated in Europe.

The Bishop of Rome praised "the positive concept of the secular" in this country because it exists to give "authenticity and liberty" to the faith.

While the simple arrival ceremony did not include any public addresses, Sergeant Heidi Ortiz of Langley Air Force Base, said she wouldn't have missed the Pope's arrival for the world. Having won a ticket to come to the event in a lottery of military personnel, Ortiz told ZENIT that she feels like the Pope is a true representation of Jesus, and that just his presence was enough.

Others who welcomed the Pope were Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. episcopal conference; Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services; and the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon.

After the welcome ceremony, the Pope went by car to the residence of the apostolic nuncio, where he will stay until he leaves for New York on Friday.

The Holy Father will start off the day on Wednesday, his 81st birthday, with a private Mass in the nunciature chapel, followed by a morning reception at the White House and a private meeting with the president.

The five-day U.S. trip has the theme "Christ Our Hope" and includes two cities -- Washington and New York -- a stop at ground zero and an address to the United Nations.

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