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On the Road with Pope Benedict XVI

Michelle Martin is checking in from Washington, D.C., and relaying what’s going on during the pope’s visit. Check back often for updates.

April 19, 2008 10:53 a.m.

We got home late last night, pulling into Karen’s driveway at about 10:30 p.m.

Karen had to drive the whole way, as my vision has not completely returned.

By the time Tony and the kids retrieved me and brought me home, it was well after midnight.

So now I’m following the pope on television and through the media. But I keep thinking about the time I spent in Washington—the feeling at Andrews AFB when Pope Benedict arrived, and the mood in the city when I was there. Although I spent most of the time either in a hotel room, emergency room or doctor’s office, nearly everyone I encountered was excited about the pope being there. People in the doctor’s office (the ambulatory care center at George Washington University Medical Center on Pennsylvania Avenue) were all talking about whether they had seen the pope when he traveled in the popemobile down from the White House.

On Friday morning, when we stopped at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on our way out of Washington D.C., its gift shop was sold out of almost all the souvenirs with Benedict XVI’s image on it; when we stopped at the Build-a-Bear Workshop in Montgomery Westfield Mall in Bethesda, Md., to get bear T-shirts with the “Christ Our Hope” logo on them, they told us they were the only store that had any left.

So from the standpoint of building enthusiasm, the trip so far has been a success, I think.

April 16, 3:35 p.m.

I’ve been out of touch the last two days because of injuries to both my corneas, apparently caused by bad contact lens solution. After time in the George Washington University Medical Center emergency room and two visits to the GWU ophthalmology clinic, I can see again out of at least one eye, and they tell me I’ll be back to normal in a day or two.

In the meantime, I have been keeping up with the pope as much as possible by television, and today started checking in with local Catholics, including bishops, who have made the trip here.

After we got off the buses on Tuesday, we still had about three hours before the Holy Father was scheduled to arrive on “Shepherd One” (the nickname given by journalists and air-traffic controllers to the plane the Holy Father travels on. The Holy See charters a plane when the pope flies. It does not own its own plane.) As other invited guests—military personnel and their families, as well as students from Bishop McNamara High School in southern Maryland—reporters were free to leave their designated bleachers to talk with the other guests.

Navy Seaman (E-6) Chris Degothsier said he came because it was “the chance of a lifetime” to see the President George W. Bush and the pope together.

Degosthier, a Catholic originally from King of Prussia, Pa., said he told his mother he was coming to see the pope, and told her to tell as many people as possible.

Sitting next to him was Juan Lozano, originally from Colombia and now a Navy storekeeper.

“I’m Catholic, and it’s going to be my second chance to see the pope,” Lozano said. “I saw him when I was in Rome, too. He’s the leader of my church.”

Sitting near the top of the bleachers were Jill Hall and Caroline Muller, whose husband is an officer at Bethesda Naval Air Station.

Both women had theirs hands full of rosaries to be blessed by the pope, for their children and other loved ones. Each has a son preparing to make his First Holy Communion.

“We’d wait eight hours for the pope,” Hall said, “in the snow.”

Hall, who taught second grade in a Catholic school in the state of Washington last year, expects to hold a similar position next year near her southern Maryland home.

I showed them the rosary my 7-year-old son, Frank, had given me, which I was carrying in my pocket to get blessed.

Shortly after that, all media personnel were told to go back to our area to await the arrival of the pope.

About 45 minutes later, the Alitalia Boeing 777 came into view. It landed from our right to our left, and taxied out of view for a few minutes. When it came back in view, it was sporting a gold and white papal flag and the stars and stripes on its nose. After it stopped, three pickup trucks outfitted with stairs approached, two on the side facing the audience and one on the other side.

Everyone else—from the flight crew to the media to cardinals, bishops and other clerics, exited first. An honor guard came out and stood on either side of the red carpet, American flag and papal flag flying.

Several people, including Cardinal George and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., approached and stood to the side. Then President Bush, the first lady and their daughter Jenna (I think) walked out on the red carpet and awaited Pope Benedict.

When he appeared in the door, everyone—including some media members cheered. He smiled and had a bit of bounce in his step, and seemed truly to be enjoying himself.

He made his way down the stairs to be greeted on the red carpet by the president and his family, then by other dignitaries, including Cardinal George. Then most of the dignitaries went inside briefly, although some bishops—auxiliary bishops from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, vice president of the USCCB, stayed in the tarmac. Some Spanish-language reporters took their opportunity to talk to Bishop Kicanas.

He told them—in Spanish—that the pope brought a message of joy and hope, especially for the poor and vulnerable, including children, immigrants and the sick.

Then the welcoming delegation came back, the pope got in his limousine and the motorcade left.

Shortly after that, my eyes went bad.

April 15, noon

On the bus to Andrews Air Force Base.

A group of 225 media people—writers, photographers, television and radio reporters—lined up in front of the Westin Hotel, standing for about an hour in the 45-degree temperatures. Eventually, we were funneled through a tent staffed by police with bomb-sniffing dogs and secret service. All electronic equipment out and turned on, leave it with the security staff while you go through the metal detectors, pick it up on the other side.

The dog sniffed my computer bag for longer than anyone else’s bag—his handler joked he smelled my lunch.

I’m on bus three (of five) and we are getting ready to pull out to go to the air force base.

Tuesday, April 15, 9 a.m.

Well, we made it to Washington D.C., found the hotel and got checked into the media center. All around me people are trying to figure where they’re supposed to be. People are asking questions about who’s where, how to get there and how to make all the technology work. More than one person is suggesting a quick rosary.

But most of all, the mood is one of anticipation.

“Now,” one person said, “all we need is a pope.”