Pope Francis began his first full day in the U.S. in the Nation's Capital, addressing thousands early Wednesday with a message of tolerance and inclusivity.
The Pontiff was welcomed to the White House by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with an elaborate arrival ceremony at the South Portico.
"On behalf of the American people it is my great honor and privilege to welcome you to the united states of America," President Obama said.
Welcome to the White House, @Pontifex! Your messages of love, hope, and peace have inspired us all.— President Obama (@POTUS) September 23, 2015
As the massive gathering of spectators cheered and waved papal flags, Francis arrived at the red carpet in his much-talked about popemobile, a modest Fiat 500L. His devotion to humility and his expectation for others to follow suit was apparent in his remarks.
"Mr. President, I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I’m 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," Francis said, as a crowd of about 11,000 cheered.
"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," Francis, 78, said.
Obama in his opening remarks applauded the Pope for his example of humanity.
"You remind us that the Lord's most powerful message is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart. From the refugee who flees war torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, to those who suffered and those who have caused suffering and seek redemption," Obama said.
The address was not without political connotations, as Francis went on to commend Obama's stance on climate change and urged those in a position to create change to act.
"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," Francis said.
"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 continued, quoting his Encyclical Letter released earlier this year.
Francis noted that such change will require a hard look at the kind of world that will be left behind. "To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it," he continued.
Also not lost on Francis were America's developments in mending diplomatic relations with Cuba, where the Pontiff had traveled before arriving in the U.S.
"The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom," Francis 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, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children."
He concluded his address with a blessing, to which the crowd went wild.
"Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!"
Following a performance by the Washington D.C.-based St. Augustine Gospel Choir, Francis and Obama made their way back inside the White House, where the two would have a closed door meeting.
“We love you, Pope Francis!” one voice yelled above the hollers of those gathered, and the crowd cheered.
Following his meeting with the President, Francis is expected to tour the Ellipse and parts of the National Mall and then make is his way to Saint Matthew’s Cathedral for midday prayer. His day will conclude at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, a Spanish-born Franciscan friar known for his mission work in California in the 1700s.
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