The pope was met with a roar of applause and cheers from the tens of thousands lining the streets outside the White House late Wednesday morning.
Just moments after driving out of the White House gate in his pope-mobile, a security guard picked up a small child from behind a fence and brought the toddler up to Pope Francis for a kiss.
The pope’s parade from the White House to the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle is the only non-ticketed event during his six-day, three-city U.S. tour and an estimated 18,000 arrived along the parade route before dawn to grab their spot to catch a glimpse of the leader of the Catholic Church.
Less than an hour before, Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of 15,000 on the White House front lawn, touching on the issues of climate change and world peace through diplomacy in his first comments to the nation. President Obama sat behind the pope for the monumental speech, while prominent DC Catholics including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Ethel Kennedy were seated in the front row for the papal address.
The pope was scheduled to speak at the White House at 9am, but was late after deciding to greet schoolchildren who had been waiting outside his residence in DC since before dawn to catch a glimpse of him. The pope hugged many in the crowd of cheering and clapping fans gathered outside the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See – otherwise known as the Vatican Embassy.
When he arrived at the White House in his humble Fiat, President Obama and First Lady Michele were waiting outside to welcome the leader of the Catholic Church for the special ceremony.
The president then led the pope to the south lawn where they stood as both the Pontifical Anthem and Star-Spangled Banner were played. After a military procession, President Obama stood up to the podium to introduce the pope.
‘Our backyard is typically not this crowded,’ the president joked in his opening comments. ‘The size and the spirit of today’s gathering is just a small reflection of the deep devotion of some 70million American Catholics.’
Mr Obama then went on to speak about the good work the pope has done in inspiring Catholics not only in America but around the world.
‘I believe the excitement around your visit must be attributed not only to your role as pope but your unique qualities as a person.
‘In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings,’ Mr Obama said.
Francis, the first pope born in the Americas, spoke in English to address those gathered for the monumental visit. While English is not the pope’s strongest language, he spoke slowly to make his opinions on climate change, international relations and religious tolerance clear.
He started off by thanking President Obama for his warm welcome to the U.S. and expressing his excitement on his coming days in America.
‘I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans,’ Francis said. ‘As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.’
‘I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people,’ the pope continued.
He also spoke about his upcoming speech to Congress. Pope Francis is scheduled to become the first pope to address the members of the House and Senate when he speaks at the Capitol building on Thursday.
‘During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles,’ he said.
He then spoke of American Catholics and the good work they have been doing in accordance with their faith.
‘Mr President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination,’ he said.
The pope then turned his speech towards climate change, telling President Obama that he finds it encouraging that he is proposing an initiative to reduce air pollution.
However, he made it clear that Americans and American Catholics in particular, need to do more to promote the environment.
‘Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.
‘When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.
‘We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change,’ he said.
The pope then invoked the spirit of Martin Luther King, perhaps hoping to appeal to American Christians at large, over the importance of saving the planet from global warming.
‘Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of the world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.
‘Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities, our societies.
Read more: dailymail.co.uk