This blog entry is written byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State.
The past few days have been busy ones for the Office of Protocol. In 2007, we began preparations for the visit to the U.S. by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Since that time, our office has been coordinating with the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese in Washington and New York City, The United States Secret Service, The White House and local authorities. All members of the team, especially the Papal delegation and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archdioceses, have been so gracious to work with. Meetings were held, contingency plans were made, and diagrams constructed; every thing was in place and ready for execution.
The events on Tuesday and Wednesday far exceeded my expectations. Every detail was so well executed, they were glorious events. The coordination of services between all the moving parts were executed in precision and professionalism.
Tuesday we arrived at Andrews Air Force Base early to prepare to greet His Holiness. The stands were full of people and there was great enthusiasm from the crowd. Bishop McNamara High School Band played beautiful and spirited music while we waited for the arrival. The Alitalia jetliner touched down on the tarmac as we walked down the red carpet with the delegation of Archbishops and His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.
As we approached the plane I thought about what I would say to the Holy Father and how I would welcome him on behalf of the United States Government and the American people. I asked His Excellency Sambi what I should say to the Holy Father after the standard protocol formalities and he said just invite him to come to meet the President and welcome him with your big smile. At that moment I became somewhat nervous. I was welcoming an important religious leader to our country. I thought the warmth I am able to show will let him know just how much regard America has for him. This was no different than welcoming someone you respect and revere into your home. I boarded the plan and greeted His Holiness to the United States of America. He was so gracious and he smiled and took the time to thank me and made me feel completely at ease. This was a solemn moment for me. I could just feel a certain joy, strength and a real enthusiasm and aura of understanding how important this visit was. He was very warm, very engaging, and very happy that we had met. He's obviously a person who really cares about people.
The plan to meet the Holy Father was to walk down the red carpet towards the plane as he moved down the jet way. It all worked perfectly and the President and Mrs. Bush introduced him to delegation. As the Holy Father descended steps the crowd erupted in a cheering roar and then there was almost stillness as if everyone realized this was an historic moment. As a person who has been fortunate to lead a movement in my prior and private capacity life, I could feel the mood and the adoration of the crowd. Hardly any of us had a dry eye! It was very moving.
Wednesday morning started very early for the Protocol department. Our team headed by Bryan Langley was very involved along with the White House staff and advance teams to prepare for the South Lawn Ceremony at the White House. The morning was sunny and weather looked really good and we all breathed a sigh of relief. My day started with early morning television interviews including Fox News Channel's Fox and Friends and CNN International.
Later that morning as we entered the White House grounds the more than 10,000 participants and guests were entered the grounds of the South Lawn. The various teams involved in the event were all rehearsing, finalizing last minute details and walking through movements and scenarios…..all but Secret Service who were, as always, well positioned in very strategic places.
When I first arrived at the White House, I participated in a walk-thru of the exact path the Holy Father would take as he entered in his motorcade to the White House Grounds. Also participating in the walk-thru were members of the Vatican Embassy, the members of the Archdiocese of Washington and the great assembly of delegates from the Holy See. Before the ceremony began, there was a diplomatic reception with Secretary Rice, Cabinet members and leaders of the House and the Senate for the Delegation of the Holy See.
Outside on the White House Lawn the crowd grew and the bands played. The Holy Father arrived by motorcade to the circular drive on the South Lawn at the White House and was met by President and Mrs. Bush. President Bush escorted His Holiness to the reviewing platform and the program began. The crowd cheered and erupted into a chorus of Happy Birthday, as Wednesday was the 81st birthday of the Holy Father. The program was dignified and moving. There was a 21-Gun Salute, the National Anthem of the Holy See, the National Anthem of the United States, a Musical Troop review, a beautiful musical rendition of The Lord's Prayer and remarks by President Bush and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. At the conclusion of the ceremony the Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung and the crowd joined in by waving their U.S. and Vatican flags.
After the ceremony, we re-entered the White House where the Holy Father was introduced to the entire U.S. and Catholic delegation and took pictures. Then President and Mrs. Bush had a birthday cake for him and we all sang Happy Birthday.
The President then walked the Holy Father to the Oval Office for a meeting between the two leaders.
The ceremony, the day, and the words of the speeches were harmonious and full of hope and inspired us all.
This successful visit is due to the hard-working staff in the Protocol Office and I would like to recognize each one who has been involved with the visit. Many thanks to Bryan Langley, Tanya Turner, Dean Lewis, Ray Martinez, Charity Wallace, Tiffany Divis, Matthew Wendel, Jessie Johnson, Christine Hathaway, Penny Price, Jennifer Nicholson, Yale Scott, Katy Ballenger Mitarai, Walter Rhinehart, Thomas Rathburn and Emery Webb.