WASHINGTON – President Bush, speaking to members of Congress and clergy on Friday, said he felt firsthand the excitement of this week's U.S. visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
"This has been a joyous week. It's been a joyous time for Catholics — and it wasn't such a bad week for Methodists, either. The excitement was just palpable," Bush said at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an event that coincided with the pope's visit.
Bush, who is Methodist, said Benedict brought out extraordinary excitement from Americans, particularly Wednesday when he rode through Washington's streets and attended a ceremony in the pope's honor on the South Lawn of the White House.
"The streets were lined with people that were so thrilled that the Holy Father was here," Bush said. "It was just such a special moment. And it was a special moment to be able to visit with the Holy Father in the Oval Office."
Bush spoke at a hotel ballroom before an audience of more than 2,000 guests, including Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Solicitor General Paul D. Clement.
But the morning's main event was the pope's address to the United Nations General Assembly, which was being broadcast on large screens for the attendees.
"It's not every day you get to be the warm-up act to the Holy Father," Bush said to an audience that brought raucous applause.
Bush also said that during the course of his administration, he and the Catholic church have worked together to uphold the dignity of human life, including efforts to stop U.S. funding of foreign groups that perform or promote abortions and efforts to support stem cell research that avoids use of embryos.
After Bush got a round of loud applause as he left the hotel, his motorcade drove past a Catholic advocacy group protesting the Iraq war and holding a giant poster that read: "Thank you, Pope Benedict, for speaking out against the war."