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At White House, Pope Preaches Diplomacy

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his birthday at the White House. Benedict turned 81 today. President Bush welcomed him on the South Lawn with a crowd of 9,000 people, and a couple of military bands.

In Benedict's first public remarks since arriving, he offered hints of the message he hopes to convey during a six-day visit in the U.S.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: On this glorious spring day, Benedict beamed in a grandfatherly way as the crowds sang happy birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Happy birthday Holy Father...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Then he looked on as President Bush said that in America, he would find a nation of prayer, religious freedom, and vibrancy. Mr. Bush invoked the Pope's signature phrase, a major theme of his Papacy.

GEORGE W: In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: When it was his turn, Pope Benedict said he looked forward to meeting not only Catholics, but Americans of all faiths.

BENEDICT XVI: I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel, and one that has great respect for towards this vast, pluralistic society.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Unlike Europe whose churches are almost empty, Benedict noted that American's religiosity runs deep, dating back to the founding of the country.

XVI: From the dawn of St. Patrick, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the creator.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And the creator, he said, was foremost in the Framer's thoughts when they declared that all men are created equal. The pope touched on themes he will likely speak of throughout the week - the plight of the poor worldwide, the need to infuse faith with reason and not just emotion, and the freedom to worship God. He then quoted his predecessor, John Paul II.

XVI: In reflecting on the future victory of freedom or totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, I quote, "that in a world without rules, freedom loses its foundation, and a democracy without values, can lose its very soul."

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Benedict also gave a preview of his message to the United Nations on Friday. Perhaps in a reference to the war in Iraq, he called for, quote, "international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress."

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is the religion correspondent for NPR, reporting on the intersection of faith and politics, law, science and culture. Her New York Times best-selling book, "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality," was published by Riverhead/Penguin Group in May 2009. Among others, Barb has received the American Women in Radio and Television Award, the Headliners Award and the Religion Newswriters Association Award for radio reporting.

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