The pope has arrived.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greeted Pope Francis Tuesday afternoon as he arrived at Joint Base Andrews for his six-day visit to the United States.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, wearing a simple white cassock and plain black shoes, walked down the stairs of his plane onto red carpet a few minutes after he arrived at 3:49 p.m. to cheers. It is his first visit to the United States. He is the fourth pope to visit the United States.
“We love Francis, yes we do,” the crowd chanted. “We love Francis, how about you?”
The Obamas were joined by their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, and two of their granddaughters also attended. Hundreds of spectators sat in bleachers.
“Ho ho hey hey,” a crowd chanted. “Welcome to the USA.”
Pope Francis shook the hands of each of the Obama and Biden family members before the president escorted him toward the airport terminal for a brief private chat on an overcast day. They smiled broadly, occasionally laughing.
The Vatican selected four children in first, third, fifth and seventh grades from different Catholic schools in the Washington area to greet the Holy Father. One presented him flowers.
The pope will be honored at an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday before meeting with Obama at the White House. He will speak to Congress Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked during the daily briefing with reporters why POTUS is “going to these lengths” to greet the pontiff.
“Pope Francis, we have seen, has really struck a chord,” Earnest replied, “in people not just across the United States but around the world. He serves as a source of inspiration not just for Catholics but of people of frankly all religions around the world.”
Earnest did not reveal the agenda for the meeting Wednesday, though said he would not describe it as a “social meeting.”
“When the president sits down with Pope Francis tomorrow in the Oval Office, the president will not arrive at that meeting with a political agenda. This is an opportunity for two men who have so many values in common to talk about the efforts that they are taking in their respective and quite different roles to advance those shared values.”
The pope also plans stops in Philadelphia and New York, where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly and multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.