Washington welcomes the pope

The trek for Justyna Japola started at the White House at 8 a.m. Armed with a guitar and flanked by members of a neo-Catholic group, the Polish Georgetown graduate student made her way to Foggy Bottom to witness the first pontifical visit in almost three decades.

“It doesn’t matter if we see him.,” Japola said. “It just matters that we’re here and he knows that we love him and we feel his love as well.”

Willie and Linsey Henricken are originally from Ireland and Zimbabwe, respectively, but came from their house in Maryland to see Pope Benedict XVI pass by in his Mercedes-Benz popemobile.

“We’re just here to show our love for him and have an encounter with him,” Willie Hendricken said. “I’ve met people out here from Texas, Florida, all over the U.S. It’s kind of a pilgrimage to come here and see him.”

And two minutes after noon at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a glass-enclosed Pope Benedict XVI pleased hordes of his faithful, and those just along for the ride, with waves and smiles as he made his way from the White House to the Vatican embassy. His appearance in Foggy Bottom lasted about one minute.

Pope Benedict began his six-day U.S. visit in the District Tuesday with a visit to the White House. This marks his first trip to the United States since he became pope in April 2005.

Policemen and metal barriers blocked off sidewalks, keeping back hundreds of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the head of worldwide Catholicism. Venders selling Pope Benedict T-shirts, buttons and flags wandered the crowds shouting, “Buy a flag. It’s history on a stick!”

Groups of children and musicians stood in circles as they danced, sang and played various drums and guitars along the sidewalk.

Much of Pennsylvania Avenue and Washington Circle were closed off as early as 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Pedestrians were able to cross Pennsylvania Avenue until around 11 a.m. when Metropolitan Police Department barricaded all the sidewalks.

“There are so many types of people out here,” Japola said. “Young people, old people, kids, college students – everyone really wants to experience this.”

While church groups and Catholic organizations were well represented along the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue, many non-Catholics were equally excited for Pope Benedict’s arrival.

“We’re Protestant,” said Carolyn Hurley, who took her granddaughter Courtney to see the pope. “We’re from Alabama and we are here for 10 days. We didn’t know he was coming, so this is a big surprise.”

Pope Benedict’s popemobile passed right next to GW’s campus, several blocks from Marvin Center and Lafayette Hall.

“I’m Jewish,” GW freshman Jason Lifton said. “But I’m out here to see a world leader who represents about a billion people. Watching the pope drive by is not something you get to do every day walking around campus.”

Jennifer Lillard, a visitor from Springfield, Md., said the viewing was short, but worth the wait for the few moments seeing the pope.

“My heart sped up and my two and a half year-old daughter recognized him from his picture and was very excited,” Lillard said. “He looks just like he does on TV.”

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