PRESIDENT Obama has greeted Pope Francis at the start of his five-day visit to the United States, his first as Pontiff.
The Pontiff flew into Joint Base Andrews near Washington DC on Tuesday afternoon, on an apostolic journey in which he will visit the US capital as well as the cities of Philadelphia and New York.
During his trip, the Pope will address the US Congress and the United Nations General Assembly.
As the Church Times went to press, he was also due to canonise Blessed Junipero Serra and, on Sunday, to celebrate mass at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on the final day of his tour.
Pope Francis arrived in the US straight from a three-day visit to Cuba, where he encouraged a new “revolution of tenderness” in the officially Communist state — and better relations with the US.
He also spent half-an-hour talking to the former revolutionary leader and President Fidel Castro, now 89, in a private meeting on Sunday at Mr Castro’s home.
The Pope said on his flight to the US that the pair did not discuss “the past”, except for Mr Castro’s memories of his Jesuit education and the Jesuit priest he had known.
As the Pope’s plane touched down in Washington on Tuesday President Obama was joined on the tarmac by his wife, Michelle, the First Lady; and Sasha and Malia, their two daughters. The Vice President, Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic, was also present with his wife.
Although Pope Francis was greeted by a large crowd of well-wishers at the airport, it is expected, however, that he might receive a hostile reception from some US Roman Catholics who disagree with his analysis of the ecological threat to the planet in Laudato Si’, his recent encyclical on the environment (News, 26 June).
Other Americans do not share the Pope’s enthusiasm for the normalisation of relations with Cuba after more than 50 years, which he has helped to broker.
Pope Francis has indicated that he will not directly address the still contentious issue of the Cuban embargo in his speech to Congress, though he will allude to it when he will speak of the need for good bilateral relations.
“My desire is that they end up with a good result, with an accord that satisfies both sides,” Pope Francis told reporters.
The visit to Cuba included the celebration of mass in Revolution Square, Havana; a private meeting with the President, Raul Castro; mass at Revolution Square in Holguin; a private meeting with the Cuban bishops; and mass in the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the patron of Cuba, near Santiago.
During his final mass, which was attended by President Castro, the Pope told the congregation that “our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion, and leads us to get involved in and to serve the life of others.”
Throughout his trip, he had urged Cubans to establish new relations with the US, telling them “to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”.
The Pope also prayed to God, through the intercession of Mary, that the Lord would “give full freedom to the children of God”.