Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t just visit the White House on Wednesday. It’s his 81st birthday too, and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have made a few changes to the traditional arrival ceremony to mark his special day. The first lady’s chief of staff, Anita McBride, gave us the skinny today. “It is his birthday tomorrow, so we hope to appropriately reflect that on the lawn with the 9,000 people that will be assembled. There will be details like the yellow tulips that have been put into the flower boxes which is the color of the papal flag against the white house, yellow and white. Just a lot of little details and things that we paid attention to, like a hymn that will be added to the official ceremony as well as a concluding song that is appropriate and patriotic and spiritual at the same time: "Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the Lord’s Prayer will have been added to the program." And, she hints, the kitchen might have a little birthday cake ready for the pope.
Oh, and even though he can’t attend, the Wednesday White House dinner for the pope will feature some native Bavarian food like German dumplings.
McBride notes that the Holy Father and first family have developed a strong and "comfortable" relationship since he was installed. Mrs. Bush has met the pope twice. "There really was a warm relationship that developed very quickly with the president, Mrs. Bush, and Pope Benedict. He’s a very warm and kind person," says McBride.
As for today’s Andrews Air Force Base reception by the first family for the pope, McBride says it’s part tradition and part symbolism. First, she says, history and tradition require that the president or first lady greet the pope wherever his trip begins. And the fact that both are greeting him at Andrews "really is a sign of the personal respect and love and friendship that they feel they have with Pope Benedict."