By John-Henry Westen

WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2008 ( – President George Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the White House this morning along with some 10,000 of well wishers sang “Happy Birthday” on the South Lawn of the White House.  Speaking at his reception, the Pope, who celebrates his 81st birthday today, extolled the Christian foundations of the nation. 

“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,” he said. “The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the ‘self-evident truth’ that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

  Benedict’s visit marks the second time in history that a pontiff has visited the White House.  Bush greeted the Holy Father in Latin with the greeting of St. Augustine, saying Pax Tecum (Peace be with you).

  The Pope stressed the positive role religion played in forging “the soul of the nation” pointing particularly to the defeat of slavery. “As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time,” he added, “I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.”

  The Pope honored America’s fallen soldiers – those who he said, “sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom.”

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility,” he said.  “The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.”

  Quoting his predecessor John Paul II, the Pope warned that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul.”

  Supporting this notion, the Pope quoted US President Washington who “expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports’ of political prosperity.”

“Democracy can only flourish, 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,” he added.

  In conclusion, the Holy Father gave his blessing to the nation saying: “Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America!”

  Pope Benedict and President Bush met for 45 minutes in private in the Oval Office after the celebration.