In an unprecedented move, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and their families personally greeted Pope Francis when he arrived in the U.S. today. The Pope, who landed at a Joint Base Andrews near Washington D.C. at 4 p.m. EST Tuesday, is just beginning his first-ever visit to the United States. CNN reports that the presidential meet-and-greet with Pope Francis is entirely unheard of, marking the first time in U.S. history that a visiting dignitary has been welcomed personally upon arrival by a sitting president.
Pope Francis was welcomed by more than just the first families when he landed on U.S. soil for the first time in his 78 years. He was also met with gusting winds that forced him to remove his customary skullcap and an enthusiastically-chanting crowd of excited supporters.
“Ho Ho, Hey, Hey Hey, Welcome to the U.S.A.”
Francis has been a headline-grabber since his unorthodox rise to Papal power. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, resigned his position as Pontiff, becoming the first Pope to voluntarily leave office since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Prior to being elected Pope, Francis was a fairly unknown member of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, preferring an unassuming existence as Cardinal of the Argentine church, a position bestowed upon him by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Francis is the first Jesuit leader of the Catholic church. Born in Argentina, Pope Francis is also the first from Latin America and even the southern hemisphere.
Pope Francis been drawing attention from the media and the public almost continuously since he took his position within the church. His advocacy for the poor, the disenfranchised, LGBT community, people of any or even no faith, and women has often drawn the ire of those with more traditional views. The sitting Pope most recently ruffled the feathers of conservatives around the world by announcing that women who have had abortions can be absolved by any priest, providing that they are contrite, during the Church’s upcoming Year of Mercy.
Not surprisingly, reactions to Pope Francis’ abortion announcement were mixed.
Of course, this is one Pope who’s very used to being lambasted for his “controversial” views.
The Pope preceded his visit to the U.S. by first visiting Cuba. The U.S. recently reestablished diplomatic ties with the communist nation for the first time since 1961 earlier this year, with each nation’s respective embassy opening in the other’s capital on June 20. While Pope Francis has a tendency to get political in his speech, the New York Times reports that he was exceedingly cautious in his speech during his visit. His references to revolution were allegorical and theoretical, leaving some leftists feeling as though he’d let them down.
It is entirely possible the Pontiff is simply biding his time before addressing the social situation in Cuba more directly. Being the first Pope from Latin America, he has been unfailingly committed to the plights that plague the region.
“His message cannot be spiritual alone — there has to be some political component. But he is doing it in a soft and careful way.”
The Pope has a very busy schedule now that he’s arrived in the U.S., USA Today reports. Pope Francis is expected to hold the first-ever canonized mass in the U.S. Wednesday afternoon. It is to take place at 4:15 p.m. at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and will be given entirely in Spanish. The next day another first in this visit of historic firsts will take place when Pope Francis addresses Congress. It will be the first of only four speeches he plans to give in English during his visit.
The Pope will depart for New York City on Thursday afternoon, where he will address the UN General Assembly on Friday morning. The highly symbolic and anticipated address comes on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. Francis is expected to touch on issues such as wealth disparity and poverty, the refugee crisis, and climate change.
Pope Francis will ultimately finish up his U.S. trip with a day in Philadelphia before departing for Rome Sunday evening.
During this week’s historic visit, it goes without saying that security is going to be tight. If you live in any of the areas where the Pope is visiting, or are simply thinking about visiting yourself to check him out, be prepared for immense crowds and unprecedented security measures. NBC News reports that authorities are specifically concerned about terrorists potentially impersonating police officers at this time. The memo received by the news outlet, which is titled “First Responder Impersonators: The New Terrorist Threat,” doesn’t mention Pope Francis by name, but the timing coincides with the current visit.
“The impersonators’ main goals are to further their attack plan and do harm to unsuspecting citizens as well as members of the emergency services community.”
It also goes without saying that when a sitting Pope is visiting, security is always going to be a concern. While there have been no specific or credible threats to the Pope’s well-being thus far, those charged with his safety are handling his visit with an appropriate abundance of caution. Everyone involved is working to ensure that the public and Pope Francis are as protected as possible during this historic visit.
[Image Courtesy: Getty Images Pool]