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1979: President Carter praises Pope's courage

John Paul II has become the first Pope to set foot in the White House after greeting US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.

The meeting of the 39th President of the United States with the 264th Roman Pope broke a 200-year-old tradition which has seen few US politicians publicly courting the Catholic Church.

Around 40,000 people gathered to see the Pope hold a Mass for 1,000 priests at St Matthew's Cathedral in Washington before he travelled to the White House on the last day of his tour of six American cities.

As he arrived he was welcomed by nearly 7,000 government and church dignitaries.

President Carter addressed John Paul II in Polish before he turned to the crowd and said: "For those of you who may not speak Polish, that means 'May God be praised'."

The Pope then joined the US president in calling for nuclear disarmament and increased aid to the Third World.

"The US plays a particularly important part in the quest for greater security in the world and for closer international collaborations," John Paul II said.

"With all my heart I hope there will be no relaxing of its efforts both to reduce the risk of a fatal and disastrous worldwide conflagration and to secure a prudent and progressive reduction of the destructive capacity of miltary arsenals."

President Carter welcomed the pontiff's speech and stressed the Pope's devotion to the enhancement of human rights throughout the world.

He described John Paul II as a "man of courage who has inspired the world".

The ceremony passed off peacefully despite the fact that 30 minutes before John Paul II was due to arrive at the White House an armed man, who had three guns and a knife in his possession, was arrested.

The police said he gave up without a struggle.

Later the Pope and the President entered the White House where Mr Carter was blessed by the pontiff.

The Pope then spoke to a number of people in the crowd in the South Garden.

In Context
Following his visit to the US and his meeting with President Carter, the Pope returned to Rome established as a major voice in international affairs.

By 1998 he had visited more than 100 countries and circled the globe 27 times.

During 1979 he made 2,194 public addresses of which 76 were included in the course of nine days in visits to Ireland and the US.

In 1980 he met President Carter again and he welcomed the Queen for her first state visit to the Vatican.

His most recent meeting with a US President was in June 2004 when George W Bush presented him with the American Medal of Freedom.

The Pope died at 2137 (1937 GMT) on Saturday 2 April 2005 after he failed to recover from a throat operation.

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