Pope Francis Mesmerizes Crowds as Thousands Throng the Streets

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Washington, DC – There was an electrifying pulse on the South Lawn of the White House as Pope Francis approached the complex from the residence of the Vatican ambassador, where he was staying. This is first papal visit to Washington since 2008 and President Barack Obama became the 11th consecutive president to meet with a pope, going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s meeting with Pope John XXIII on December 6, 1959.

On a glorious first day of Fall, the President and Pope stood together before an honor guard as a band played the national anthems for the Vatican and the US.

According to a White House official, there were about 11,000 guests with tickets to the event on the White House grounds, but there were thousands more gathered outside the barriers to watch. People began line up well before 4 a.m. for the ceremony at 9 a.m. at the White House. There were a lot of attendees of Indian origin including a few Sikhs conspicuously visible with their colorful turbans,

Endorsing the president’s efforts on climate change, the pope said, “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” adding, “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.”

On the burning global issue of migrants, the pope said, “I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development.”

Speaking softly in English, the Argentine-born Francis said he was ready to listen to the “hopes and dreams of the American people” and to offer guidance to those charged with shaping the nation’s political future “in fidelity to its founding principles.”

“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet — God’s magnificent gift to us,” Obama said as the First Family along with some of the top administration officials welcome the pontiff.

“We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations,” Obama added.

In a gentle tone Obama argued that “here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty,” after the pope highlighted the importance of right to religious liberty, saying, “That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”

The day came to an end when more than 25,000 people cheered the pope as he arrived to deliver a Mass on the grounds of Catholic University.

Earlier during the day, in two tours around the streets of the national capital, the pope stood in a glass booth mounted on a white Jeep, waving to well-wishers thronging the sidewalks. The pope didn’t get out of his vehicle on either of the tours.

On Thursday, the pope will deliver the first-ever papal address to a joint session of Congress, then will visit a DC church where homeless people will be served lunch by Catholic Charities. The federal government remains open during the pope’s visit, but much of the city was on lockdown, and federal employees in the area were strongly encouraged to work from home or take days off. He will travel to New York and Philadelphia later in the week to wrap up his six-day visit.

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