Students Greet Pope With 'Happy Birthday'

Pope Benedict XVI opened the doors of the Vatican Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue this morning to a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" sung in German and English by 110 elementary students from nearby Annunciation Catholic School.

"Wonderful. In German and in English," the pontiff said as he prepared for an appearance later in the morning at the White House. He moved to a railing and shook hands with several of the students, including James Henkels, an 11-year-old from Vancouver, Washington. He had traveled here with his father Paul, who said the family regarded is as "the opportunity of a lifetime."

The students, who arrived at the embassy about 90 minutes before the pope came out, waited eagerly inside the fenced courtyard for their big moment.

Tangwan Ambe, a 7-year-old second-grader in a crisp and pleated school uniform, said: "I think this is exciting. I have never seen the pope before."

The school's principal, Marguerite Conley said she wasn't sure how her school was chosen for today's honor but added, "It touches my soul."

After shaking hands with Benedict, she said it was "important to see someone this great in the faith so close."

Music director Denyce Daniels said the students have been practicing for their appearance for 2 1/2 weeks. "It is more of a blessing than an honor that God would deem us worthy to be here today," she said.

One of the oldest students in the group, Frankie Grubar, 13, said despite widespread beliefs that students don't care about the pope, "everybody here is enthusiastic about him. It's an honor to sing for the pope because he is the leader for millions of Catholics. He is also the symbol of purity and holiness."

He left the embassy in a black limousine and motorcade down Massachusetts Ave., arriving at the white House around 10:30 a.m.

There, a military band played as thousands of people gathered at the Rose Garden, including dozens of cardinals in their black cassocks, red sashes and zuchetto hats, and bishops in their signature magenta. Other groups also came in formal garb -- from Knights of Columbus in their feathered white hats to Boy and Girl Scout troops in uniform.

-- Hamil R. Harris and Michelle Boorstein

By David Marino-Nachison |  April 16, 2008; 10:39 AM ET
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