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Huge crowd welcomes Pope Benedict to the White House

April 16, 2008
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Thousands gathered at the White House on Wednesday to witness the first Papal visit for almost 30 years, an occasion which coincided with Pope Benedict XVI's 81st birthday.

The pontiff, who was welcomed to the South Lawn with a 21 gun salute and a Marine Band playing the national anthem, is only the second head of the Catholic Church to visit the presidential home.

Huge cheers went up as the Catholic leader joined President George Bush on the podium in front of 13,500 spectators - the biggest crowd to gather there during Mr Bush's presidency - to sing Happy Birthday. Those who didn't make it inside the White House grounds filled the surrounding streets, playing music and waving banners as they waited for a hoped-for glimpse of the German-born prelate.

Following the welcome ceremony, the pontiff, who's in America on a six-day visit, spent 45 minutes in private talks with Mr Bush in the Oval Office. He then left for the nearby National Shrine - the nation's largest Catholic church - where he met US bishops.

Later that evening a gala birthday dinner was held at the White House while the Pope himself led a prayer service in Washington. On Thursday the visit continued with a mass celebrated before 46,000 at Washington's National Park.

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Photo: ©
Pope Benedict is only the second pontiff ever to be welcomed to the presidential residencePhoto: © Getty Imagesy
Photo: ©
In honour of his 81st birthday, White House chefs had produced a four-layer cake for the Catholic leaderPhoto: © Getty Images
Photo: ©
Following the welcome ceremony the Pope held 45 minutes of private talks with President Bush in the Oval OfficePhoto: © Getty Images

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