Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner?

By Dan Eggen
Monday, April 14, 2008

The historic visit to Washington this week by Pope Benedict XVI is a big event for millions of Americans, including President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

The first couple will greet the pontiff as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base on Tuesday afternoon, followed by a ceremony and private meeting at the White House the next day. Then comes a final event Wednesday night in the East Room, when the Bushes will host a dinner in honor of His Holiness.

Only one thing will be missing: the pope.

"I'm sorry, the pope doesn't attend a dinner in his honor?" one reporter asked White House spokesman Scott Stanzel during a briefing last week.

"No," Stanzel replied.

"How does that work?"

"He doesn't come into the building."

"But then it's not a dinner for the pope, is it?"

"It's in honor of his visit," Stanzel explained. "There will be leaders from the Catholic community from all over the country who are in town for that visit."

White House aides attribute the pontiff's absence from the dinner to a busy schedule during his first visit to the United States. Wednesday also happens to be Pope Benedict's 81st birthday.

His scheduled events include a visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast on Wednesday afternoon, Mass at Nationals Park on Thursday morning and a visit to Catholic University that afternoon. The pope is to fly to New York on Friday morning; Vice Presi dent Cheney will fly north next weekend to bid the pontiff farewell.

Benedict will be only the second pope to visit the White House. Pope John Paul II was hosted by President Jimmy Carter in October 1979.

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