Thousands of people anxiously waited for Pope Francis at the White House Wednesday morning, cheering and waving miniature flags of the U.S. and Argentina, his home country.
“Our backyard is not typically this crowded,” President Obama said, looking out onto at least 11,000 people, many of whom had gotten there seven hours before Francis did.
In his remarks, delivered slowly in English, Pope Francis said he looks 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.”
He specifically thanked Obama for his climate-change policies. “It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” he said. And while Pope Francis is no politician, as my colleague David Graham notes, with the White House as a backdrop, it’s hard not to be political.
After addressing the crowds, Obama and Francis retreated into the Oval Office for a private meeting.
The visit marks Francis’s first time in the United States. He arrived on Tuesday, landing at Joint Base Andrews, where Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with their families, greeted him. On Wednesday afternoon, Francis will make Junípero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan theologian, a saint during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—the first canonization on U.S. soil. On Thursday, the pontiff will give a speech to a joint session of Congress, where lawmakers have been advised to restrain themselves from trying to get close to the pope—in other words, control their excitement. He then heads to New York and Philadelphia.