Papal Blowouts Might Involve 81 Candles

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The hottest ticket in Washington? Pope parties.

While most folks consider themselves blessed to snag a seat for Pope Benedict XVI's Mass tomorrow, D.C.'s A-list will celebrate his visit -- and his 81st birthday today -- at three VIP gatherings.

"You always pray for the Holy Father," said Anita McBride, the first lady's chief of staff. "You never think you're going to meet him."

The festivities kick off this morning at the White House, where more than 9,000 people will gather on the South Lawn to welcome the pope. "It will be the largest White House arrival ceremony we've ever had," said McBride. Up front: The president and Laura Bush, Dick and Lynne Cheney , Condoleezza Rice and 146 Catholic members of Congress -- led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Missing: Supreme Court justices, who'll be stuck in session.) Soprano Kathleen Battle and the Army Chorus will perform, but don't be shocked if the audience breaks into a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday" at some point.

After remarks, the president and the pope will go inside the executive mansion, where they'll meet with a small group (including Bush family members), then go out on the balcony overlooking the lawn. The first lady requested yellow tulips against the backdrop of the White House -- white and yellow are the colors of the papal flag.

Tonight, the White House has invited 200 national Catholic leaders and others to an East Room dinner in honor of the visit. The pope won't be there, but the guest list includes Sen. John McCain, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Pelosi, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Meanwhile, 400 guests will attend a birthday party at the Italian Embassy with Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta, opera stars Placido Domingo and Denyce Graves, Justice Stephen Breyer, DNC Chairman Howard Dean, lobbyist Tommy Boggs and sis Cokie Roberts, and U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See. Again, the pope is not scheduled to attend -- although he is staying at the Apostolic Nunciature just down the street.

Some VIP Catholics are on duty: "I'm working," said NBC's Tim Russert, who'll report on the arrival ceremony and Mass, but skip tonight's events. "I'm watching the [ Obama -Clinton] debate," he said. "I have to cover both church and state."

The president is skipping the Mass at Nationals Stadium to prevent even more security tie-ups. Donors to the Washington Archdiocese and their guests get the stadium boxes, but the primo seats are on the field. (Look for Pelosi and Sen. John Kerry, who plan to take Communion along with 46,000 faithful at the service.)

The most exclusive invite of all? The private birthday luncheon today at the nunciature. Two dozen cardinals will celebrate with a cake created by . . . a nice Jewish girl. "I was sort of shocked," said Leslie Goldman-Poyourow, owner of Gaithersburg's Fancy Cakes by Leslie. The custom pastry designer was asked to make a 20-by-30-inch replica of the Vatican in the pope's favorite flavor: chocolate. One candle -- or 81? Goldman-Poyourow is wisely leaving that to higher powers at the embassy: "They're going to handle the lighting."

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

· Lynne Cheney browsing furniture at the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store on 14th Street NW Monday. The veep's wife (beige jacket and slacks), shopping with a tall lady in a black and white dress and the usual Secret Service detail, tested out a leather chair by plopping down in it three times. She also inquired about some of the framed art photos for sale; when told they were taken by Tipper Gore (who has gone into business with the furniture chain), she replied, "Interesting."


· Book tour time! Laura Bush will become the first first lady ever to co-host NBC's "Today" show. On Tuesday, the same day her children's book "Read All About It!" will be released, she'll spend the entire 9 a.m. hour assisting on various segments; co-author and daughter Jenna will also drop by, in the first of several joint promotional appearances the two will make in coming weeks. (Maybe the TV time will juice ticket sales for their speaking engagement that night at N.Y.C.'s 92nd Street Y -- passes for the event showed up for half price on a discount-ticket Web site.)

· Federal prosecutors will seek a three-year prison term for actor Wesley Snipes, plus a $5 million fine, for failing to pay his taxes; they argued yesterday that a tough sentence for a "wealthy, famous and inveterate tax scofflaw," convicted in February of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal tax returns, could serve as a warning to others.


"I've got to get one of these for my basement!"

-- Legendary rapper-provocateur and geography-phile Chuck D, admiring a 9-by-6-foot map of the world at National Geographic headquarters downtown over the weekend. The Public Enemy frontman was there to moderate a panel on music and social change for Geographic's "Hip Hop in the City of God" symposium.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company