DOWNINGTOWN - President Bush took the opportunity to meet with Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali Thursday while visiting Chester County.
After speaking to about 4,200 people at the United Sports Training Center in West Bradford, Bush stopped in Downingtown for a personal visit with the cardinal.
The president and cardinal met in the rectory of Saint Joseph's Parish for about 30 minutes.
Monsignor William Lynn, pastor at St. Joseph's, said the two leaders met in private in the rectory dining room and that he did not know what the two men discussed. Both the president and cardinal departed immediately after their meeting for other engagements. Bush was headed for Hershey.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a press release that the meeting was requested by the president, and that the cardinal was willing to meet with both presidential candidates. The church said that because the meeting was private it would not release details of the men's discussions.
Meanwhile, outside the parish, hundreds of Chester County residents gathered along Manor Avenue hoping simply to catch a glimpse of the president as his motorcade zipped in and out of the church parking lot.
At least a few did, including Karen Boyda and Brad Hutchinson, both of East Brandywine and both elated at sighting the president.
"It's awesome," Boyda said. "I'm a registered Democrat but I'm not voting Democrat this year. ... (Bush is) the best one for terrorism."
Hutchinson, who said he also favors Bush over his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, said it was exciting to see "the most powerful leader in the world" pass by 20 feet in front of him.
An estimated 700 people gathered along Manor Avenue, about 400 of them to the north of the church, the direction from which the president's motorcade approached. About 300 more people stood south of the church entrance and in front of the Downingtown Area School District's Ninth Grade Center.
The president, whose motorcade arrived at about 2:50 p.m., was greeted with signs welcoming him to Downingtown and assuring him he is well loved. He was also greeted with signs supporting Kerry and running mate John Edwards. Some in the crowd cheered "Four More Years" while a group of Downingtown High School students armed with Kerry/Edwards signs called out "Fire the Liar" and other chants while the president visited with Rigali.
Chris Haas, a senior at Downingtown High School West Campus, said he thinks the country has become divided between conservatives and liberals. "I think the Administration is to blame."
But even some Bush opponents were excited to see the president, including Frank Caterisano, who plans to cast his vote for Kerry on Nov. 2.
Just after it passed, Caterisano announced the president's position in the motorcade to Ed and Jean Spragg, a couple who described themselves as "staunch Republicans."
The trio had spent their time waiting for the president's arrival arguing over which candidate was better for the job, citing the economy, Iraq, international relations, the meaning of pro-life, even former presidents Clinton and Reagan to make their points and counter-points.
But neither side was swayed.
"I saw all three debates and I made up my mind," said Caterisano, of Caln.
But Caterisano and Ed Spragg, also of Caln, did agree on something. That they enjoy an engaging debate. "I'm having more fun than I thought I would," said Ed Spragg, a former deputy mayor of Haddonfield, N.J.
The presidential election - and Manor Avenue - divided others as well, including John Danielsen, of East Brandywine, and his son Andrew, a student at Downingtown High School West Campus.
"I'm a Bush supporter and he's a Kerry supporter and we have great conversations at night," said John Danielsen, standing on one side of Manor Avenue taking pictures of Andrew, who stood on the other side with a group of peers. The road: the "family demarcation line," John Danielsen said.
Despite the showing of Kerry supporters, Bush had no shortage of fans, among them retired residents, mothers of children serving in the Armed Forces, born-again Christians and an unemployed chemist who said Bush cannot be held accountable for his job loss.
"You can't legislate profitability," said Bob Weber, a chemist of Upper Uwchlan who was laid off about a year ago. "I support Bush 100 percent."
Cathy Viens, a Uwchlan resident whose daughter serves in the Navy, said she joined the crowd "to show support" for Bush.
While the Downingtown event was not publicized rumors of it began to circulate Wednesday. The Downingtown Area School District notified parents it would dismiss school two hours early Wednesday because the motorcade would require road closings during its usual dismissal time.
Schools that it transports, including Saint Joseph's School, also dismissed students early.
At least a few parents said the early dismissal was a good opportunity for their children, including Micheal Vondra, of Caln.
"How often do the kids get to see the president," said Vondra, a Bush supporter and full-time dad who learned of the visit when he picked his son up from morning kindergarten at St. Joseph's Wednesday. "I was fortunate when I was younger to see the president, President Reagan."
For Mauricio Verduzco, of Downingtown, the visit from the president was an opportunity to remember a life left behind four months ago when his family moved here from Germantown, MD, located outside Washington, D.C.
Standing with his 10 and 6 year old daughters, who attend Saint Joseph's School, Verduzco said: "We got used to all the monuments, the museums and of course the political life."
Alex Grigson, of Guthriesville, said she found the location of the president's second visit accidentally, after failing to locate it on the president or borough's Web sites Tuesday.
Grigson was on her way to her mother's house when she saw the people gathered near the church. "I stumbled into it."
She said that while she will vote for Kerry on Nov. 2 she still wanted to see the president. "He's a powerful, influential person."