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Pope Benedict XVI's Historic Visit: The Mass, Prayer and Expected Statements

Aired April 16, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, an historic visit drawing a crowd of historic proportions. Thousands flock to the White House to see Pope Benedict XVI. Also, tickets to the two papal masses are almost impossible to come by at this point. You're going to find out who got them and who's still praying for a miracle.

Plus, the scandal dogging the papal visit. Find out what abuse victims want the pope and the world to do.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thousands of people are waiting right now for the arrival momentarily of Pope Benedict XVI at the country's largest Catholic Church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, right here in Washington, D.C. You're looking at live pictures.

The pontiff will meet and pray there with American bishops. The sex abuse scandal expected to be a major topic of discussion. The private session follows a very public pomp-filled visit to the White House that drew a crowd of some 13,000 very lucky people.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us now outside the basilica with more on what's happening right now.

Brian, set the stage for us. This is going to be a powerful set of speeches that we're going to hear over the next two hours or so.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly will be, Wolf. This is the place where the pope is expected to address the sex abuse scandal in real substance. As for the atmosphere out here, it's almost like a rock concert atmosphere as these thousands gather here at the basilica to greet the pope. He's supposed to arrive any minute.

There is a shot of the front of the building. Our camera man, Eddie Gross, is going to pan over there and show the front of the basilica, where the pope is going to arrive. He's going to ascend those steps in just a few minutes.

Again, this is really a charged atmosphere here. This may be the only glimpse that a lot of these people are going to get to see of the pope their entire lives. And I'm going to show you this kind of a cross section of people here. You've got banners welcoming him with all sorts of messages here.

We're going to walk through the crowd a little bit here. This is a banner citing the pope's words against the Iraq War. Excuse me a second, folks. We're wading through the crowd. People of all ages, all demographics, are gathered here for the pope's visit. And one of the central points of his visit here at this campus and to this basilica is, is he going to be able to relate to the young people here who have gathered here to see him, to the young followers of the Catholic Church at this University and elsewhere.

We asked that question to two student leaders a short time ago. Here's what they said.


PETER OSGOOD, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY STUDENT: And I feel that, you know, he's administering to Catholics and non-Catholics all over the world. And I feel he can deliver that message one way or another to all peoples of different cultures, to every generation, as well.

KATIE PICOU, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Just for being a young child -- being a young person in the church and seeing how much has been advanced over the past few years, especially all the work that J.P. II did and Benedict has just come and picked right up. So I think that's kind of silly to think he couldn't relate to...


TODD: So people of all ages are gathered here. They think that this pope has a relevant message for them. A very substantive conference he's about to attend inside those doors in just a few minutes. He's going to get here.

Again, this conference of bishops that's going to be beginning in just a short time, Wolf, is going to be seen as really something of substance. The sex abuse scandal and some other very correctly issues facing the church expected to be addressed here in just the coming minutes.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. We're going to have extensive live coverage of the pope's visit here and his address to the American bishops.

Brian Todd is on the campus of Catholic University.

Here's an aerial look, by the way, of the scene that Brian was just describing. The pope will travel just a short distance from the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the basilica, where we'll take part in a private prayer service. That's filling the rest of his schedule for the evening and why he won't be attending the White House dinner later tonight in his honor.

Tomorrow, the pope celebrates mass here in Washington at the new baseball stadium, the Washington National Park, and again this weekend at Yankee Stadium in New York. That's coming up on Sunday. But getting tickets at this point literally could require a miracle, with demand far exceeding the supply.

Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She's picking up this part of the story for us.

So how hot are these tickets, Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: They are really hot, Wolf. You know, the more rare something is, the more people want it. People really want these tickets. And sometimes the lord works in mysterious ways.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Getting a golden ticket to a papal mass this week seems about as miraculous as finding the golden ticket to Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Just one ticket is hard enough to get. But six tickets required divine intersection. Six truly golden tickets for Katie and Kevin Teehan and their four children. The whole family will celebrate mass with the pope in New York's Yankee Stadium.

KATIE TEEHAN, MOTHER: I thought there's no way that we're going to get six tickets. We don't get six tickets to anything.

ROESGEN: About 100,000 tickets were available for the two papal masses in New York and Washington. But it's estimated that four times that many people applied to get one. According to the New York Archdiocese, each ticket holder had to pass a background check and each is imprinted with a bar code to prevent it from being sold or even given away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'm going to keep those close. Those are valuable tickets. We are very blessed to have them and I think I'm going to keep them real close.

ROESGEN: Some parish priests gave tickets to their flock on a first come first serve basis. Others chose parishioners to make what Father Ron Lewinski calls a pilgrimage -- little pilgrims included. That's how the Teehans got theirs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes for the kids, it's just in a textbook. But to be there present in that stadium with the pope and all those people I think will give them a whole different framework for understanding what it means to be a Catholic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys excited?

ROESGEN: The Teehan family doesn't even have a New York hotel room lined up yet, but they're on their way to see the pope with something more precious than gold.


ROESGEN: Now, you know, Wolf, those tickets will get people into one of those two masses. But they're not a free trip to New York or Washington. People who are going to go to the papal masses have to pay their own way. So it's not exactly Charlie's free trip to the chocolate factory.

BLITZER: All right. It's a hot ticket, indeed.

All right, Susan. Thank you.

Let's discuss the pope's visit and what we're about to see over the coming minutes.

Our senior Vatican analyst, John Allen, is here. He's a reporter with the "National Catholic Reporter".

This is going to be a major address, some would argue perhaps substantively the most significant or the most controversial address while he's here in the United States.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Yes. You've got to understand, for the pope a part -- a core part of the agenda for this trip is to try to help the bishops of this country set the tone for the future of the American Catholic Church. And this is really the most substantive bite at the apple in terms of laying out the pope's sense of what the issues are and where the church needs to go.

BLITZER: He's going to address head on the most sensitive issue, at least right now, for a lot of American Catholics -- the issue of priests and pedophile sexual abuse. He's going to address this issue, we're told, rather extensively at length.

ALLEN: Yes. We've certainly been given to understand by the pope's top aides that that is part of his intention tonight. It's not going to be the only subject, but it certainly will be a very important piece of the puzzle.

And, as you know, the pope actually, even before he arrived in the United States, he picked up this question, talking about the sexually abuse crisis aboard the papal plane, indicating a deep sense of shame for it and a determination that pedophiles would be excluded from the priesthood and, also, a sense that justice and compassion has to be brought to victims.

So, you know, the $64,000 question, Wolf, in some ways coming into this trip on the sex abuse issue was does the pope get it? That is, does he understand the depth and gravity of this crisis? I think he is certainly doing everything he can to communicate he does get it.

BLITZER: And in the sense of getting it, he's not going to try to skirt around it. He's going to really, really focus in on the problem.

ALLEN: Yes. He clearly is not avoiding the reality. Now, certainly, that probably will not be enough to satisfy everyone. I mean we have already heard from some victims' groups that until they see cardinals and bishops losing their job for the mismanagement that went on, they're not going to be satisfied that the lesson has ultimately been learned.

So, clearly, this is not going to play to unmixed reviews. But, nevertheless, I think the pope is doing everything he can to at least signal that he's not ducking his head in the sand, he understands what has happened.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

We're going to continue this conversation. Don't leave. You're going to be back here.

I want to check back with Jack -- Jack, we're going to have a lot of coverage coming up over the next two hours of what the pope is up to. But, you know, this is a really, really sensitive subject for American Catholics.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A sensitive subject for the church, too. And, you know, perhaps you can suggest it's better late than never and that it's past time for the highest ranking official in the Vatican, the pope, to confront head on a scandal that has cost the church $2 billion and opened a wound that will probably take who knows how long to close.

This is a good thing he's doing. Whether it's sensitive and difficult or not, it's something that has to be addressed and good for him.

In the meantime, we don't want you to forget about this election. Here's something you might not know about the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. He is very superstitious. The "Washington Times" reports some of McCain's more well-known rituals -- for example, he won't throw a hat on a bed. That's bad luck. He carries a lucky feather. I wonder what that's for?

A lucky compass, a lucky penny, a lucky nickel and a lucky quarter. One staffer says he had so many coins at one point that it was like a change purse in his picket.

The senator's superstitions are robbing off on some members of his campaign staff, as well. One top adviser says he grew a beard during the 2000 campaign, didn't shave it off until the race was over, says he's probably going to do the same thing this time around.

Another adviser says that when someone recently mentioned winning the general election in November, three members of the inner circle immediately knocked on wood so as not to jinx anything.

If McCain wins the race, he wouldn't be the first superstitious president we ever had. FDR used to invite his secretary along if there would be 13 people at dinner. He never traveled on the 13th day of the month. Ronald Reagan carried a lucky coin and a gold charm with him. He knocked on wood and he never walked under ladders.

So the question is this: Is it a plus or a minus for a president to be superstitious?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

Are you superstitious -- Wolf? BLITZER: I guess I am, to a certain degree. I assume everybody is.

You're a little superstitious, right?

CAFFERTY: Not really. I don't pay a lot of -- what are you superstitious about?

BLITZER: I don't like to walk underneath ladders if a guy is painting or something.

CAFFERTY: I guess maybe if I saw a ladder sitting there...


CAFFERTY: I might -- yes, I would probably walk around it, although you don't think about wanting to avoid it. But, yes, on some level, maybe you're right.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm not that superstitious, but a little bit.

CAFFERTY: Well, you've had a got of good luck, too. So whatever your superstitions are, it's working for you.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

We're following the pope's meetings here in Washington with the Catholic bishops. We're going to have live coverage coming up of that, the prayer service that follows, as well as his major address to the bishops. You're going to see it all right here.

And victims of sex abuse by the Catholic clergy -- they're going to tell us what they want to hear from the pope during this historic visit to the United States.

And a major ruling on lethal injection. Shock waves being felt right now from a U.S. Supreme Court decision. We'll tell you what has happened today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This is the first time the pope has visited the United States since the pre-sex abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church some six years ago. And victims are using this opportunity to appeal to the pontiff.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story for us.

What are these abuse victims saying, Mary?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, what they're really saying is that they want to see the pope reach out to them. And they say they want to see the church punish more priests and bishops who did nothing about reports of abuse.


SNOW (voice-over): Beyond the pomp and ceremony of Pope Benedict's visit come protests -- in Washington and in New York. Victims of sex abuse by clergy members put names and faces to those who carry the scars of the church's pedophile scandal. Victims like David Clohessy of SNAP, which stands for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

DAVID CLOHESSY, SNAP: The priest who molested me molested three of my siblings.

SNOW: SNAP wants the U.N. to investigate the Vatican's role in covering for priests who were sex offenders. Father Robert Hoatson, who says he was abused as a student in the seminary, doesn't expect the U.N. to act. He says this is what he wants to hear from the pope.

REV. ROBERT HOATSON, ROAD TO RECOVERY: Number one, say to survivors and their families we, the Catholic Church, are so sorry that this happened to you. Number two, come to us for the assistance, the compassion, the mercy, the justice that you need and deserve.

SNOW: Groups like the Catholic League say the church has made progress since the sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002, with Boston at the epicenter. More than 4,000 priests have been removed. And Father Thomas Reese of Georgetown says the fact the pope is addressing the abuse scandal, even saying he's ashamed, is significant.

REV. THOMAS REESE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: This is what American Catholics wanted to hear from their pope. You know, he is the leader of the Catholic Church worldwide. And for him to come out and say this, I think, is really important and will be received well by the people.

SNOW: But the church is reeling from the fallout of the pedophile scandal. It's paid more than $2 billion in legal settlements to victims. Five dioceses filed for bankruptcy. The number of men entering the priesthood is down significantly.

And Patrick Wall, a former monk who now helps prosecute pedophile priests, says there are still clergy members who need to be removed.

PATRICK WALL, SEX, PRIESTS & SECRET CODES: We're just going to have to face the evil that is within the church.


SNOW: Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports 635 new allegations of sex abuse in the church in the year 2006 -- 2 percent involving children under the age of 18. The rest were adults reporting abuse from past years. And, Wolf, there is still a possibility that while the pope is here in the U.S., he still could meet privately with some sex abuse victims.

BLITZER: What are you hearing on that front? What are some people suggesting? SNOW: It's being suggested that perhaps this meeting is on the table. Some victims are saying that, you know, it's not going to be open enough, but he would meet privately with him if it happened.

BLITZER: It's among the most sensitive, if not the most sensitive, issue on his agenda right now. And we're going to be hearing the pope address it directly. That's coming up very soon

Mary, thank you very much.

We're going to show you some live pictures right now from over at the campus of Catholic University here in Washington, D.C. This is where you can see, people are getting ready for the pontiff. He's going to be right off campus, right nearby.

These are live pictures that you're seeing right now from the basilica over at -- right next to Catholic University. These are the pictures coming in from the campus.

Father David O'Connell is joining us right now to help us better understand what's going on, as well as the Vatican analyst, Delia Gallagher. She's here, as well.

All right, set the scene for us Father O'Connell. You know this campus as well as anyone. You're the president of the Catholic University. What are we seeing and what do we expect to see over the next hour or two?

REV. DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: The campus has about 200 acres. It's the largest campus in Washington, D.C. . And what we're seeing are individuals who have been ticketed in order to view the pope when he comes to the basilica and to the campus of Catholic U. And they'll wait there until he leaves, as well.

BLITZER: And you can see you can see some of those arriving. I'm going to give you this microphone so you can speak into that. But hold on for a second.

Delia, you're here, as well -- Delia, as you see this -- and you've covered the Vatican for a long time -- give us the big picture. How extraordinary -- or is it extraordinary -- is this whole visit by the pope to the United States?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's extraordinary for this reason. The last few years in the Catholic Church in the United States, as we all know, has been a time of huge suffering for Catholics, for priests, for victims of sex abuse. And it seems to me that the pope, what's extraordinary about the fact that he's come here is that he, himself, has made this a top issue on his agenda. He hasn't tried to move away from it in any way.

And I think that tonight is him speaking to Catholics. This is the first time. This morning we saw him speaking to the whole country at the White House. Tonight is for the Catholics, for the priests and for the Catholic people of America. And I think people will be really listening attentively to see what he says. BLITZER: What is the picture we're seeing right now, Father O'Connell?

O'CONNELL: We're looking down Fourth Street, down toward the Bishop Conference, where -- the street that the pope will be arriving on.

BLITZER: And we see, obviously, a lot of well wishers, student body campus representatives and others. The basilica is right off campus. It's not part of Catholic University?

O'CONNELL: No. It was originally built to be the chapel of the campus. But then after the Second World War the finances were such that they had to separately incorporate. And after the Second World War, the top level of the basilica, what we're looking at right now from the inside (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: And this is where the pope will be walking in, into the basilica, is that right?

O'CONNELL: Yes. These people that you see here are the members of the board of directors of the basilica. And they're the staffers for the Archdiocese of Washington and also for the Bishop Conference.

BLITZER: And so -- and they are obviously invited guests.

And what will happen -- there will be a prayer service first and then the pope will address the group that has gathered there? Is that what we're waiting for?

O'CONNELL: Well, what will happen is the rector of the basilica will go down and greet the Holy Father, bring him into the basilica. There'll be an opportunity for the group there, the staffers in Washington to cheer him. He will make a short stop at the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and he will also visit the shrine of a German saint dedicated to the Blessed Mother. And then he will take the elevator and go downstairs into the crip (ph) church, where he will have a prayer service with the bishops and then a speech.

BLITZER: And his speech will be, obviously, televised. And we can see, obviously, the motorcade coming right now from Washington, D.C. -- from elsewhere in Washington, D.C., from Massachusetts Avenue, where the pope has been staying. And the pope will be arriving here -- I am assuming he's going to be coming in on the pope mobile.

Is that right?

O'CONNELL: Right. Around 5:30. What we had planned would be that the car would stop at the Bishop Conference. The pope would get in the pope mobile and ride up the street to the basilica and to the campus and that he would go around the circle that is in front of the basilica and then alongside in the parking area where all these crowds that you're looking at are gathered.

BLITZER: Delia, when the pope is in that pope mobile -- and you've seen him in that pope mobile many, many times. He's standing. Is he actually blessing all the spectators who have gathered on the sides of the road?

GALLAGHER: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. You see him blessing them. And, you know, I was just thinking, looking at the crowds there, it's really a unique opportunity for these people to see their pope up close. You know, way over here in the United States, we don't get a chance, as much, to see him up close.

And I think you can feel kind of their excitement to be able to see him and especially with Pope Benedict, because he's somebody who has suffered a sort of, you know, a difficulty in his reputation. And so I think it's nice for them to be able to really see him on television, get an idea -- you can even see him from his physicality, the way that he holds himself, that kind of shyness that he has that comes across. And so I think this is an important trip, also, from the perspective of his reputation and Americans really getting to understand a little bit more who this person is.

BLITZER: And, Father O'Connell, if you're a spectator, if you're a Catholic and you see that close the pope, even from within the pope mobile, blessing you, that's quite a thrill?

O'CONNELL: Oh, it is a thrill. And I'll tell you, the spirit on the campus as I left to come here today was just one of -- it was ecstatic and joyful. And it was very interesting. Delia and I were at the White House this morning for the meeting with the president. And the joy that was radiating from the pope himself was incredible. He's just so happy to be here.

BLITZER: He was smiling. You could see him as he saw that crowd on the South Lawn of the White House -- Delia.

GALLAGHER: You know, I had the sensation -- I thought, I wonder if this is all a little overwhelming for him. Today is his 81st birthday. I don't know if he ever thought that he might be on the South Lawn of the White House celebrating his 81st birthday. And the fact it's so -- it's such a spectacle. I mean, even here, you kind of see these wide streets, all the police cars ready to go. You know, we do things in a big way in this country. And it's not the usual papal trip, I have to say.

O'CONNELL: You know what was very interesting to me this morning is the president began his speech by quoting Saint Augustin. And the pope, in his speech, quoted George Washington. And there was an interesting intersection of church and state, I thought. And it never really crossed the barriers of what we would consider appropriate in our country.

GALLAGHER: Well, yes, because the pope thinks that, you know, American democracy is really unique for that reason, that we have a country where all religions can sort of coexist in this still secular society. And yet, in some way, it's so ironic, because we're very religious at the same time.

O'CONNELL: That's true. GALLAGHER: So it's not imposed.

BLITZER: I just want to very briefly just listen in to the crowd that has gathered on the campus of Catholic University.

Let's just listen in for a second to what's going on.

It's an exciting time for all these people. And they're obviously showing a lot of respect, Father O'Connell, because it's not everyday that you get to see the pope.

O'CONNELL: And it's very important to have the presence of the security there because of that enthusiasm and excitement. I heard the reporter earlier mention, too, when I came out of my house, I wasn't even allowed to walk across the campus because I didn't have my security card with me.

BLITZER: This morning?

O'CONNELL: This morning.

BLITZER: So what happened?

They didn't recognize who, that you were the president of Catholic University?

O'CONNELL: One of my own public safety officers said well, I don't recognize you. He's new.


O'CONNELL: And I said, I'm your president. Look on your paycheck.

BLITZER: Can I tell you something?

He did the right thing, though.

O'CONNELL: He did the right thing. And I said, I congratulated him and thanked him for doing it.

BLITZER: Have you seen security like this anyplace else for the pope?

GALLAGHER: No. It's never been -- been to this extent. When we flew into Andrews Air Force Base, you know, it was just sort of 70 of us on the plane and then we -- we took about 20 minutes to taxi down. And then there were all of these -- those big black GMC trucks. The pope had an entourage of about 26 cars. I mean he doesn't even travel that way.

BLITZER: So when he goes to other countries, it's not as intense, the security?

GALLAGHER: Well, there's always a split between Vatican security and the security of the country. And so, obviously, you know, security is tight in every country that he goes to. But nobody does it on quite the same scale as we do here in the States and that was extremely evident. And even this morning, you know, all of fanfare at the White House and all of the security there was -- it really is a big deal when you're not used to it and that --

BLITZER: This is going to be a lengthy speech that the pope will deliver to the bishops. It's coming up not that long from now.

GALLAGHER: And the interesting thing about it is that Pope Benedict writes all of his speeches.

BLITZER: He personally does?

GALLAGHER: He personally pens them and you can tell.

BLITZER: And he's got experience. He used to write speeches for the previous popes, is that right?

GALLAGHER: Yes. And write his own papers. I mean think about this pope, who has to write all of these talks that he gives. And he's written "Jesus of Nazareth," a big book. He's written lots of theological works at the same time. I mean...

O'CONNELL: Dozens of books.

GALLAGHER: And he's 81.

BLITZER: Does he write -- this one he's going to be delivering in English. He writes it, actually, in English?

GALLAGHER: I think that he writes in German. I think that he writes in German and that it's translated. He's most comfortable in German.

BLITZER: And we see the motorcade approaching the campus of Catholic University and the basilica, where the pope will be speaking with leaders from the Catholic Church and will be addressing American bishops. You can see that when he's traveling here in Washington, he doesn't travel lightly, Father O'Connell. You know this because you've been working on the logistics of this for months and months and months.

O'CONNELL: Oh, that's true. And, in fact, we were talking earlier...

BLITZER: There it is.

O'CONNELL: There he is, yes.

BLITZER: You can see the pope mobile right in the middle of those vehicles right there. There he is, dressed in white. The pope standing inside the pope mobile, moving toward the basilica right next to Catholic University. It's going to be going right by our cameras.

But the crowd is going to get even more excited right now. Maybe we should listen in very briefly. All right. Describe the prayers. What is he doing, exactly, Father O'Connell, right now?

O'CONNELL: Well, he's waving at the crowd. That's Archbishop Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, with him. And next to Archbishop Wuerl is seated the pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Gaenswein.

BLITZER: But is there a specific prayer that he that he says, as he --

O'CONNELL: As he travels, Wolf, I don't think so. I think right now he's just enjoying the crowds and waving to them and blessing them.

BLITZER: And he's looking out there. And I'm sure he's establishing some eye contact with some of the spectators. Some of the people who have gathered on the streets of Catholic University are trying to just get a glimpse.

Delia, you've seen this many times.

GALLAGHER: Yes, I have. And every time I see him, I think well, it's a little bit hard for him. I think he's not the natural John Paul II that loves the big crowds, you know? It's just not natural to him. I think that he does the best he can with it. But to be kind of in the spotlight is not something that he ever thought he would be doing.

I mean he's said that himself in a lot of his writings. Every time he was nominated bishop and archbishop he said ooh. And when he was elected pope, he said -- when he was in the Sistine Chapel and the votes were going his way, he felt like the ax was about to drop. And he said lord, don't do this to me. So this is really kind of an interesting juxtaposition of a man who thought that he would be an intellectual and be able to retire and write his books and now look at him.

BLITZER: And just to set the scene, there's the pope mobile getting in at the basilica right next to Catholic University.

Let's listen in briefly to these people who have gathered to honor, to welcome the pope to the United States.

BLITZER: All right.

Father O'Connell, tell us what's about to happen right now.

O'CONNELL: He's traveling around the front of the circle.

BLITZER: The circle at the basilica?

O'CONNELL: At the basilica and he's doing that so that as many people can see him as possible. He's going to pull alongside to the entrance way facing Catholic University where he will be greeted and then escorted into the Basilica.

BLITZER: What's the relationship between the basilica and Catholic University?

O'CONNELL: It's a very close relationship between the two. As I said, the basilica was originally conceived as the church or chapel for the university. Then they separately incorporated. But it's a very important relationship for us both.

BLITZER: We see that those bullet proof windows have now been lowered and the pope is feeling whether Vatican security or secret service they feel confident now in letting those bullet proof windows go down so he can actually hear what these people are saying.

GALLAGHER: You know, the Vatican has a thing about not putting the pope behind a kind of fortress. Even if you go to Rome they don't like to show any obvious type of security. And so when he travels I think they try as much as possible to make him accessible as it were and not behind bullet proof glass.

O'CONNELL: It's his desire as well, his expressed desire. He wants to be as close to people as he can be.

BLITZER: But all these people who have been allowed there, they've been screened, gone through metal detectors. This is a very secure area for obviously for obvious reasons. Remind our viewers Delia the history of the popemobile. It started after an assassination attempt?

GALLAGHER: Yes. Absolutely. It was -- they're made by Mercedes and they tend to update them every so often. This one you can see is updated. When John Paul II was unable to walk they got one that automatically lifted down. There's about two or three in the world they travel with. There's a kind of jeep style one at the Vatican that he goes in that John Paul II also used when he was shot. You remember those pictures, I'm sure.

BLITZER: Of course. Let's listen again as he walks out and he's greeted.

Father O'Connell, who's escorting him on this red carpet?

O'CONNELL: The priest to the right is to rector of the basilica, Monsignor Rossi. This is Dr. Vaspary (ph) the Vatican protocol person. Then that's the arch bishop of Washington.

BLITZER: He's the new arch bishop who recently took over?

O'CONNELL: He's been here for almost two years now.

BLITZER: Relatively new indeed. All right. So they're going to walk into the basilica now. They'll begin with a prayer service? Is that right?

O'CONNELL: They'll first greet the people inside, the staffers of the various organizations and then the prayer service will begin after the pope has a chance to greet them and walk around and make a little visit to the top part of the church.

BLITZER: And then he makes his speech to the bishops later. Let's listen in.

All right. So now he's, as you say, Father O'Connell, he's going to be greeting some of the leaders of the Catholic Church here at the basilica right next to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Go ahead, tell us -- I don't know if you know who he's seeing right now.

O'CONNELL: These are the sisters who serve as the staff of the basilica. They do the linens and they keep the church clean and they do a lot of the work in the church. They're just so thrilled, you can tell. They're from Poland.

BLITZER: These sisters here?

O'CONNELL: These are Polish sisters, yes.

BLITZER: They're brought over specifically -- this is under the control of the Vatican, I assume?

O'CONNELL: Yes. The sisters came during the papacy of John Paul who also is Polish.

BLITZER: You don't know, Delia, when you see the pope what to do. If you're just a regular person do you actually shake hands? Kiss his ring?

GALLAGHER: You're supposed to kiss his ring.

BLITZER: If you're Catholic you kiss his ring?

GALLAGHER: You kiss his ring.

BLITZER: If you're not Catholic it's OK to shake the pope's hand.

GALLAGHER: Absolutely. What you're supposed to do if a Catholic, wear black when you meet the pope.

BLITZER: Men and women?

GALLAGHER: Men and women, yes. Women, even the old veil. When they come to Rome you'll see a lot of the wives of heads of state do that. I've always seen people kind of lose their words when they meet the pope.

O'CONNELL: I'm going to be in an elevator with the pope tomorrow. I'm in my mind going, what is it I'm going to say during those few precious moments.

GALLAGHER: The problem with Benedict is that he's a big listener. Whereas John Paul II would have come out and said something to you, Benedict is more retiring. He waits for you to say something.

O'CONNELL: That's true.

BLITZER: He speaks English obviously very well, Father O'Connell. You're not going to have a problem communicating with him. I don't know how your German or Italian is but your English is pretty good.

O'CONNELL: I've studied a little Italian and German. Notice he's wearing a white cape over his shoulders.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

O'CONNELL: That's part of the costume for the pope but it's only worn during the Easter season, the weeks after Easter until Pentecost. Usually it's red cape.

You know it's very interesting, too. We were told on the committee that the pope wouldn't stop and shake hands. It's interesting to see he's actually shaking hands and greeting the people.

BLITZER: He's the pope. He can do whatever he wants.

O'CONNELL: Look at how happy he is.

BLITZER: Yes, he clearly is happy.

GALLAGHER: Also he looks good for 81.

BLITZER: Remember it's his birthday today. He's 81-years-old. If you're listening closely to the crowds, you can hear a lot of people saying happy birthday, which is obviously a nice gesture.

Let's listen in. Maybe we can hear something.

How happy, Father O'Connell, are these lay people who have been invited in?

O'CONNELL: They're just ecstatic. Joyful.

Now he's ascending the steps to go up to the alter. Then he will make a left turn and go into the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, the eucharis where we believe the body and blood of Christ is reserved.

Now Wolf, he's giving a blessing to everyone.

O'CONNELL: Happy birthday.

BLITZER: Yes. And as you were telling us yesterday, Father O'Connell, is it a coincidence he's here on his birthday? This isn't necessarily scheduled around his birthday, was it?

O'CONNELL: No. It was not. It's a nice coincidence.

Now he's entering into the chapel where he'll make a prayer. If you notice the bishops walk several steps behind him. We've been instructed you should be three steps behind the pope as he enters the room.

BLITZER: Father O'Connell, is there a special prayer he says now or does he just pray whatever he wants to pray? O'CONNELL: I think he's praying from his heart. I'm sure he's praying for the people of our country, the people who he'll visit and for the bishops in a special way whom he's about to address.

But you can see the rector of the shrine over his shoulder and how happy and proud he is to be able to welcome the pope into the basilica, Monsignor Rossi.

GALLAGHER: You know, Wolf, when he gave his first message before he came over here he said, prayer is the thing that we need to think about. I think that's often overlooked when we talk about the pope. We talk about political issues and other things, but he zeroed in on the fact that prayer was one of the things that he wanted to bring.

BLITZER: It's interesting that even though President Bush will host a dinner in his honor tonight at the White House and distinguished guests are coming in from all over the country, the man who's supposed to be honored has decided he's not going to be attending.

GALLAGHER: That was never on the schedule. I think we should say that. The pope was never going to attend that dinner. In fact, popes don't really attend dinners.

BLITZER: I assume the White House knew that when they scheduled the dinner. Is that right?

O'CONNELL: It's a tradition that the pope does not eat the public. That's the reason. When the committee planned the itinerary, this dinner was not something for the papal itinerary. This is something for the guests currently in Washington. I'll be there tonight for it. I'm looking forward to it.

BLITZER: Are you one of those guests at the White House?

O'CONNELL: I'm going to be there tonight. I was there this morning and will be there tonight.

BLITZER: So that will be an exciting moment for you. Have you ever been for a state dinner at the White House?

O'CONNELL: I was there St. Patrick's Day. I had about 20 minutes with the president alone. It was great.

BLITZER: Really?

This president, even though he's not Catholic, he feels very close to Catholics, Delia doesn't he?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think such things have been said, yes. That he does feel close to Catholics and is also aligned in some sense with Catholics on life issues.

BLITZER: The issue of abortion and other issues. That was very evident in his remarks on the White House of the South Lawn, Father O'Connell. O'CONNELL: Beautiful remarks that he gave. I think both the president and he gave tremendous complimentary remarks. Our Holy Father is headed to a small shrine, a German shrine that's just been constructed at the basilica to our Lady of Aloyton (ph). She's the patron of, I believe, of the hometown of the Holy Father in Germany.

BLITZER: This is because this pope is from Germany. Is that the whole origin of this specific shrine?

O'CONNELL: Yes I think so. You can see it there. It's a statue of Mary, the mother of god, under the special patronage, exercising special patronage for the town in which our Holy Father was born and lived his early life.

BLITZER: So there's a special German connection here that he feels just as the former, late pope felt that Polish connection given the fact he was from Poland.

O'CONNELL: That's true.

GALLAGHER: Absolutely. This pope is from Bavaria in southern Germany. He's a very much a Bavarian at heart.

BLITZER: What does that mean? Tell me what that means.

GALLAGHER: They say he likes his beer and his weiner schnitzel and very cultured. Bavaria is a very sort of cultured town.

O'CONNELL: Joyful, exuberant, the people are happy people.

GALLAGHER: They consider themselves different from north Germans.

BLITZER: Now he's going where?

O'CONNELL: He's go to the sacristy to get in the elevator and seven people will accompany him down to the crypt church of the basilica. Archbishop Wuerl, Monsignor Rossi and some security personnel and it's there that he will greet the bishops and engage in prayer with them for a little while and then give him address.

BLITZER: He'll go to the other location for the address.

O'CONNELL: Downstairs.


O'CONNELL: That's what's called the crypt church. This is the magnificent upper church of the basilica, what we call the great church. You see that powerful mosaic of Jesus Christ coming in judgment.

BLITZER: Can people visit the basilica, just tourists coming to Washington? How difficult is it to get inside?

O'CONNELL: Anybody can visit the basilica. In fact, that's the purpose of this basilica. It's a shrine. It's a place of pilgrimage. And it's open every day from 7:00 until 7:00 in the evening.

BLITZER: Let's listen in as they get ready to hear from the pope.

Explain, Father O'Connell, what's going on.

O'CONNELL: This is the choir of the basilica. It's a very fine choir. They are beginning the prayer service. The pope has not yet come into the crypt church of the shrine yet. They're singing a song of welcome.


GALLAGHER: It strikes me that one of the important things to this pope is the idea of bringing back some of the traditional music and the traditional way of celebrating the mass. There's sort of different views within the Catholic Church about how you celebrate your mass on Sunday.

One of the things that this pope represents is a kind of traditionalism in what they call the liturgy, which is the mass and the music. And he thinks that by showing Americans and other Catholics that kind of old-time music, as it were, that they will rediscover some of the beauty of that, which doesn't take away necessarily from a modern way of participating. This is one of the divisive issues I think we can say in the Catholic Church the way that you celebrate mass.

O'CONNELL: You know after the Vatican counsel a number of traditions of the church were let go of. There's always a period of time, a period of upheaval when the dust has to settle and it usually lasts about 40 years.

We're 40 years after the Vatican counsel. And it's interesting that we're starting to see a sense of recovery of some of the traditions and the devotions. The Gregorian chant which is so beautiful and so many of the elements of the church's tradition because people are looking in this day for an anchor in their faith.

BLITZER: All right. Let's listen in to this beautiful, beautiful music.

We're watching this beautiful, beautiful prayer service about to get under way with Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University, and Delia Gallagher, the long-time Vatican analyst who's helping us better understand what's going on.

Tell us, Father, who are these people who are invited inside this Basilica right now.

O'CONNELL: These are all the members of the bishops' conference. That's the Bishop Bolen (ph) of Savannah, Georgia, who is there. All those who lead the dioceses in the United States.

BLITZER: How many people about have gathered to be inside? O'CONNELL: There's 195 dioceses. There are sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three but all of the bishops of the United States have been invited to this.

BLITZER: They're now standing. Does this mean the pope is about to enter?

O'CONNELL: Yes. This is the beginning of the service.

BLITZER: All right.

I want to just listen in a little bit as the pope enters the Basilica.