President Bush has welcomed Pope Benedict on his first papal visit to the United States during a joyous ceremony on the White House lawn.  Mr. Bush told the pope that in a time of terrorism and hate, Americans need his message that God is love.  VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

Under a picture-perfect blue sky, thousands of people, including U.S. dignitaries, nuns and priests greeted Pope Benedict as he began the first full day of his trip to the United States.

President Bush told the pope that in America he will find a people of prayer and compassion and a nation that believes in religious liberty.

Mr. Bush said the pope's message of hope and love is especially important in a world facing violence and terrorism.

"In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love," Mr. Bush said.  "And embracing this love is the surest way to save men from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism."

President Bush and Pope Benedict differ on issues such as the Iraq war and capital punishment and neither leader spoke about them in their public remarks.

Mr. Bush did, however, allude to his and the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion. 

"In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that each of us is willed, each of us is loved," the president said. 

Pope Benedict said he has come to the United States as a friend and preacher of the Gospel who has great respect for what he called this "vast, pluralistic society."

The pontiff noted that America has been generous in helping to meet the world's humanitarian needs, and said diplomacy is the solution to solving disagreements.

"I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress," he said.

The pope was full of praise for American society and made references in his speech to the founding fathers, citing the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the first president, George Washington.

Benedict said from the beginning America's noble principles governing political and social life have been linked to God.

"As the nation faces increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, 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 dialog in the effort to build a more humane and free society," he said.

The crowd on the South Lawn of the White House sang Happy Birthday to Pope Benedict, in celebration of his 81st birthday.

Nine-thousand guests jammed the outdoor ceremony, making it one of the largest ever held at the White House.

During his six-day visit,  the pontiff will celebrate large open-air masses and address the United Nations.