WASHINGTON - More than seven years have passed since the last visit to the U.S. by a pope.
In that same period of time British prime ministers have made 12 visits, German chancellors have come through the U.S. eight times, and Russian presidents, seven times.
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No other world leader gets the treatment accorded the pope on a visit to the U.S. That will be apparent as President Obama leads the nation in welcoming Pope Francis here Tuesday. It will be reminiscent of then-President George W. Bush's reception of then-Pope Benedict in 2008.
To refresh my memory and yours, here are the notes from my daily log of presidential activity of Pope Benedict's reception in mid-April 2008.
Editor's note: The text below has only been lightly edited for clarity.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
At 3:20pm, Pres. Bush departs via motorcade from the North Portico en route:
ANDREWS AFB, MD: The president arrives about 4:20pm and proceeds to holding in the VIP Lounge in the terminal. "Shepherd One," the Alitalia Boeing 777 carrying the Pope, lands about 3:50pm. It takes several minutes for the plane to taxi, for the stairs to be raised, for subordinates to disembark and for the red carpet to be unrolled.
Pres. and Mrs. Bush and daughter Jenna walk to the steps and are there to welcome the Pope as he sets foot on U.S. soil - to the cheers of some 400 well-wishers in special grandstands erected on the tarmac.
Bush and the Pope shake hands, but the pontiff does not kneel to kiss the ground as his predecessor was inclined to do.
Bush escorts the Pontiff to the VIP Lounge for about 15 minutes of private talks. Then they emerge and the Bushes escort the Pope to his limousine - one from the Secret Service fleet. He departs.
Bush heads to his motorcade on the other side of the Andrews Air Force Base passenger terminal and heads back to D.C. His motorcade creates some traffic jams - on the Beltway, Suitland Parkway, I-295 and the Southwest Freeway. He arrives back at the White House about 450p.
Wednesday, April 16
It's Pope Benedict XVI day at the White House. More than 13,500 people are on the South Lawn, believed to be a record-size crowd, to watch the ceremony welcoming the Pope to the White House. It's only the 2nd time a Pope has been at the White House.
He arrives in a limousine from the Presidential fleet at 1030a and is accorded full diplomatic and military honors as a Chief of State - including a 21-gun salute.
The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps performs its Yankee Doodle routine.
The crowd is excited and enthusiastic about the Pope's presence - especially on this - his 81st birthday. The crowd spontaneously erupts in the singing of "Happy Birthday." The president mentions the Pope's birthday and as the ceremony ends soprano Kathleen Battle sings "Happy Birthday" to the Pope.
Inside the White House, Pastry Chef Bill Yosses rolls out a three foot high birthday cake for the Pope. Happily for the 81-year-old pontiff, there's only one lit candle on top for him to blow out.
The President and Pontiff then proceed to the Oval Office for about 40 minutes of private talks. They issue a joint statement afterwards, saying they discussed Iraq and concerns about "the precarious state of Christian communities there."
Their written joint statement also made an apparent reference to Papal concerns about interrogation techniques. It said the leaders "touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights."
About 11:55am, the Pope departs the White House - in his white Mercedes-Benz Popemobile - leaving by way of the southeast gate, north on East Executive and then west on Pennsylvania Avenue, which had been cleared of traffic to Rock Creek Park and then outbound on Massachusetts Avenue to the Vatican Embassy.
At 245pm, Bush appears in the Rose Garden to deliver an 18-minute speech setting out his latest approach to climate change. He announces setting a national goal of stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2025.
He makes the announcement today because the U.S. takes part tomorrow in another global conference on Climate Change in Paris.
In the evening, the President staged a dinner in honor of Pope Benedict - but the Pontiff did not attend because of prior religious commitments to cardinals and bishops.