When Pope Francis arrived at the White House on September 23, all the usual protocolary standards were observed for a visiting head of state except one. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, both the Obama administration and the Vatican decided that a 21-gun salute in honor of Pope Francis‘ arrival would not be appropriate because the pontiff is a “man of peace.”
Gun salutes are common when foreign heads of state arrive at the White House. For example, such an artillery salute is expected when President Xi Jinping of China visits on September 25.
But according to Earnest, such a salute was inappropriate for the pontiff, who is also the political head of the Vatican City State. “This pope has a reputation of somebody who doesn’t revel in the pomp and circumstance as much as some other world leaders do. And so it was in deference to his humility that a 21-gun salute was not included in the formal arrival ceremony today,” he said.
“But, yes, some might also recognize the dissonance in welcoming a professed man of peace to the White House through the repeated firing of weapons. I think we felt like — what could be described as a slightly more subdued welcome ceremony was the most appropriate way to welcome Pope Francis to the White House.” The White House spokesman did not say which party suggested the scrapping of the traditional salute.
In numerous Christian countries, nonetheless, artillery salutes are common on the feast day of Saint Barbara. By tradition, St. Barbara lived during the 3rd century in Nicomedia. She is one of the so-called Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is known in the Christian East as Great Martyr St. Barbara. She is known as the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives because of her traditional association with lightning.
Her feast day falls on December 4 and is observed by the British (Royal Artillery, RAF Armourers, Royal Engineers), Australian (Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery, RAAF Armourers), Canadian (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians (EOD), Canadian Air Force Armourers, Royal Canadian Artillery, Canadian Military Field Engineers, Royal Canadian Navy Weapons Engineering Technicians), New Zealand (RNZAF Armourers, RNZA, RNZN Gunners Branch) armed forces. Additionally, it is celebrated by Irish Defence Forces Artillery Regiments, Norwegian Armed Forces Artillery Battalion, United States Army and Marine Corps Field and Air Defense Artillery, many Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, and other artillery formations.
Celebrations in her honor are particularly notable in Spain and Greece, where artillery units attend liturgies and participate in parades and festivities.