At midday on April 16, a crowd gathered outside the White House to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI entering the grounds for his elaborate welcoming ceremony. Supporters of the pontiff—mostly families and people from neighboring office buildings—were sandwiched between an iron fence and angry protesters.
The angriest and best organized of these protesters were a group of middle-aged people representing Dr. Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda.
Dr. Miranda is a cult leader who claims to be the reincarnation of Christ, the Antichrist, and head of “The Government of God on Earth.” He teaches that all traditional religions—especially Catholicism—are corrupt. Miranda wants to save the children of his followers from such corruption in order to build a “super raza” (super race). Donations from his followers allow him to maintain a luxurious lifestyle in Houston.
The Antichrist’s supporters are part of a well-oiled machine. Chanting slogans in Spanish, they raised professionally printed signs that read “Priests are Predators” and “Celibacy is Child Abuse.” They shouted down passing priests with a bullhorn. Unmarked television crews arrived, one after another, to take pictures of the cultists and then left, not staying even to photograph the Pope.
Miranda’s protesters brought their own security personnel, who helped them maintain a position near the center of the waiting crowd. Women from Miami handed out glossy leaflets comparing the Pope with Osama bin Laden—because the Church teaches celibacy. Dr. Miranda equates celibacy with terrorism because, he says, celibacy invariably leads to sexual abuse. (Of course, celibacy also makes it harder to build a “super raza.”) However, the Hispanic cultists’ complaints were aimed not only at the Pope but at the peaceful crowd assembled in front of them.
Miranda’s people weren’t the only ones looking to pick a fight. Right next to them, another group had roped off its own area. Holding signs depicting homosexual sex, they shouted a wide range of slurs: “The Pope is gay,” “You hate your kids” (to Catholic parents), and “God hates America.” This group refused to say where they were from, but one bystander claimed they represented the Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Followers of Phelps turn up all over the United States at the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers to harass the mourners on the assumption that “God” killed their loved one to teach Americans a lesson for tolerating homosexuality.
The atmosphere before Benedict’s arrival was tense, as the majority of the onlookers were pinned between these two rabid groups and the security perimeter. If a fight had broken out, it would have been in full view of the Pope.
When the pontiff drove by, great cheers came from the crowd along the fence, who had bought double-key flags and JFK pins from sharpers on Pennsylvania Avenue. Once the Holy Father was inside the White House, his supporters quickly dispersed. As there was no one left to goad, the protesters disappeared, too.
While greeting the Pope must have been gratifying to those who went to great lengths to be part of the crowd, many were likely nonplussed by the menagerie of unseemly protestors, who were all but afforded a place of honor by the White House security detail. Thus, the aftermath of the Pope’s appearance was not neighborly discussion but stony faces returning home or to work.