The pope, aside from being a global spiritual leader, is a celebrity too. And that's sometimes hard to forget.
Back in 2005 when Benedict XVI was caught wearing red Prada shoes during a public audience, he showed up in the pages of entertainment magazines, as well as in NEWSWEEK. Earlier this month, the pontiff appeared in a television commercial as a bobble-head figurine promoting the use of public transportation to get around street closures during his visit. (The Washington archdiocese promptly asked for the doll to be discontinued). And if you ask these two 16-year-olds Benedict is, well, way cooler than Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
But the first test of Benedict's celebrity in America was today in Washington, where a line of Secret Service cars escorted the pontiff from his plane at Andrew's Air Force Base to where he'll be staying while in the nation's capital: the papal nunciature at the Vatican's embassy in America. About 150 members of the faithful were invited for the first public glimpse of the Holy Father as he arrived. Kids were chanting. TV cameras were rolling. And the three dozen or so Secret Service agents were trying to hide their excitement as they heard in their ear that the entourage was on the way. Some members of the crowd came with huge signage welcoming the pontiff. And a few had guitars, leading the crowd in a few church songs.
Perhaps it was naïve to think a group of Catholic children from around DC would hush in awe at the sight of the Holy Father, who has undoubtedly played a substantial role in their Catholic education. But when the sirens came and the black limousine pulled up, the kid's songs turned to chants. Then screams. Then all-out mayhem. "YEAH HOLY FATHER! YOU GO HOLY FATHER!" "BEN-uh-DICT! BEN-uh-DICT!" "Gimme some POPE! Oooowwweee!"
It was like being at a huge sporting event, waiting for the brave souls in the crowd to rip of their shirts to show huge "B"s painted on their chests. Luckily, some nuns were also on hand to help calm me down. "He's an amazing man, which is why we're excited to see him," one told me after the pontiff disappeared inside. "We're only shouting so loud because he's the closest we can get to God on earth."
Whew. That's right. This is the pope we're talking about.