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Crowds cheer as Pope Benedict XVI arrives in United States

By NBC NEWS

WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Washington for a six day visit, his first to America, for the soon-to-be 81 year old pontiff. His holiness is going first to Catholic University in Washington.

At Catholic University and the famous Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, they're excited to see this still relatively not-well-known pope.

No president had gone to Andrews Air Force Base to meet a visiting dignitary until President Bush went today, to greet Benedict XVI. The shy, soft-spoken pope, who turns 81 Wednesday, came to America on a mission of faith.

"There's a joyful side to being a Christian," said Joseph Sinasac, editor of The Catholic Register. "That what we've gotten from the gospel, from Jesus Christ, is good news. He wants to present that."

3 years into his papacy, Benedict is drawing huge crowds to St. Peter's, and anticipation is huge in America

"There's so much excitement in this church over the arrival of our holy father," said the most Reverend Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.

The U.S. Church is growing,and changing. Hispanic immigrants swelling the 65 million member U.S. Catholic flock. But some older churches are closing and there's a financial crunch. Mostly because of the pedophile priest scandal - $2 billion paid out so far to settle lawsuits.

En route to the U.S. today, Benedict said he was deeply ashamed and vowed to keep pedophiles from becoming priests. In a new poll, 75% of U.S. catholics are positive about Benedict. But 75% disapprove of how the church is handling the sex scandal.

President Bush and Pope Benedict met last year and agreed on fighting Islamic extremism. Osama Bin Laden calls the Pope Anti Muslim, and there's extra security for Benedict's visit. The Pope opposes the Iraq War, and will focus on Iraq in his speech to United Nations.

But in Washington, as Benedict meets with bishops, and Thursday as he says mass at Nationals' Stadium, the Pope's focus will be on his church and its people.

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