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Sikh Council on Religion and Education


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    Washington, April 23, 2008 - Over 13,500 people were on hand as President George W. Bush formally welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the US in a ceremony held in the Rose Garden outside the White House on April 16. Dr. Rajwant Singh, National Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, was invited to join President and Mrs. Bush in welcoming His Holiness Pope Benedict during his first visit to the United States as Pope.

    President Bush and Pope Benedict at the White House welcoming ceremony. Dr. Singh seated with Cardinals at left(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
    Guests included administration officials, 146 catholic members of congress, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Priests and workers in Catholic social service organizations crowded the South Lawn. It was the first papal visit to the White House in 29 years.

    Dr. Singh was one of the few ecumenical representatives who were invited to be part of the welcoming ceremony. Religious leaders from across America including Dr. Rajwant Singh and his wife, Dr. Balvinder Kaur, were seated next to the dais. Balvinder Kaur sat with Bush’s press secretary Dana Perino. Many Roman Catholic cardinals from across the nation were also present at this occasion. Vice President Cheney, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were seated across on the other side of the dais.

    Pope and Bush ready to deliver their remarks. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

    Dr. Singh was greeted by the White House staff as he arrived and he exchanged greetings with Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio (ambassador) and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former head of Archdiocese of Washington. Dr. Singh and Cardinal McCarrick have worked together on number of issues including poverty and environment. Other Sikhs who joined the welcoming ceremony were: Chattar Singh Saini, Baldev Singh, Inderpal Singh Gadh, Inderjit Singh and Sirmukh Singh Manku.

    The White House pulled out all the stops for the pope’s arrival ceremony. Famed American soprano Kathleen Battle sang a version of the Lord’s Prayer, eliciting enthusiastic applause from Benedict. The pope also received a 21 gun salute as the U.S. Marine Band played the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States.

    In the private meeting, lasting almost an hour and conducted without aides present, Bush and Benedict had a more detailed discussion of such issues as immigration, the struggle against pandemics and poverty, especially in Africa, according to a joint statement from the White House and the Holy See.

    Sikhs with some of the Catholic Bishops at the White House

    Dr. Rajwant Singh thanked President Bush for inviting him to be part of this gathering. He said, “Pope Benedict’s visit provides us with unique opportunity to recommit to the task of promoting inter-faith understanding and peace globally. This reiterates the role of religion in the achieving such noble goals. We also pray that Pope Benedict continues on footsteps of his predecessor Pope John Paul who focused on reconciliation and harmony in the world.”

    The crowd-- believed to be the largest ever assembled at the White House for such a ceremony-- joined in singing "Happy Birthday" to the Pope, who turned 81 today.

    Left to right: Dr. Kaur, Chattar Singh Saini, Rajwant Singh, Sirmukh Singh Manku and a friend of Bush family from TX., at the White House

    The President and the pope focused on the role of religion and morality in public life. Noting the United State’s generous role in offering relief to victims of natural catastropes, Benedict said, “ I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress.”

    Dr. Rajwant Singh and Balvinder Kaur with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at the White House

    In their speeches, both the Pope and the President alluded to the strength of religious belief in the US and the influence of natural law in the foundation of the American republic. Both men cited the Declaration of Independence, with its invocation of "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

    President Bush, in his welcoming address, told the Pontiff that he had come to "a nation of prayer." He assured the Pope that "millions of Americans have been praying for your visit and millions will be praying with you this week."

    America, Bush said, is a nation that "welcomes the role of faith in the public square," whose people "are open to your message of hope."

    In his response, Pope Benedict said that he was coming to America "as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society." Speaking in fluent but heavily accented English, he underlined the importance of moral principles in a pluralist society. The Pontiff also drew hearty applause when he ended his talk with an emphatic: "God bless America!"

    "From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator," the Pope told the Rose Garden audience. He acknowledged that the battle to maintain moral principles is often difficult, requiring substantial sacrifices.

    "In a word, freedom is ever new," the Pope said. "It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good." Quoting the words of America's first President, George Washington, in his farewell address, the Pope said that religion and morality are "indispensable supports" of a strong republic. "Democracy can only flourish," he continued, "as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation."

    As he neared the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Benedict looked forward to his appearance at the UN headquarters in New York, where he will speak on Friday. He said that he hoped to "encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world's peoples." Recalling the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he welcomed US participation in the effort to safeguard the fundamental rights of every human person.

    Dr. Singh was also invited by Archbishop Wuerl to the papal mass at the Washington National Park. This was attended by over 46,000 people. Dr. Singh and other faith leaders were seated in the front row. Other dignitaries seated in the front row were: Chief Justice John Roberts and his family, Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine and Mayor Fenty of Washington,D.C. Many political leaders and sports figures including Senator John Kerry were in the audience.

    Pictures at the Washington National Park

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