- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

With a level of pomp and circumstance rare even in Washington, President Obama welcomed Pope Francis to the White House Wednesday and praised the pontiff for leading on a host of social and moral issues.

“I believe the excitement around your visit must be attributed not only to your role as pope, but to your unique qualities as a person,” the president said during remarks on the south lawn of the White House. “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’s teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

Francis addressed the thousands gathered on the lawn, calling on the U.S. to protect religious liberty around the world.

“Americans’ most precious possessions … [is to] defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” he said, drawing loud cheers from the audience.

The thousands on hand began descending long before dawn on the White House to witness the arrival of Pope Francis, who arrived in the U.S. Tuesday afternoon to a rock-star welcome when his plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland.

Francis will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, the first pontiff to do so, and also will travel to New York City and Philadelphia later in the week.


SEE ALSO: Pope Francis’ message may divide U.S. Catholics


In downtown Washington Wednesday morning, police and Secret Service stood watch for blocks in every direction around the White House. Dozens of salesmen peddled Francis merchandise, including buttons, flags, shirts, and other items.

Well over 10,000 people stood in line for hours for the chance to see the Pope on the South Lawn of the White House. Many ticket-holders arrived before 4 a.m. to make sure they got through security checkpoints.

For Daniel Barutta, an Americorps employee, it was his third time seeing a pontiff. He saw Pope Paul VI in the early 1970s in Rome, and John Paul II in the late 1980s in Oakland, California.

“I’m a ‘cradle Catholic’ who loves the Pope,” Mr. Barutta said. “We want him to see our diversity and wish him well.”

He was accompanied by Sister Katherine Corr of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who called the pope’s visit a “special blessing.”

Andrea Samuelson, a State Department employee from Falls Church, Virginia, said the event was “super exciting.”

“It felt like Christmas morning,” she said.

A Catholic, Ms. Samuelson said Francis is a refreshing change.

“This pope is different,” she said. “I love his focus on social issues and his emphasis on refugees.”


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