Pope Francis addresses President Obama and guests during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House Sept. 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
September 23, 2015 — Pope Francis was enthusiastically welcomed to the White House this morning, where he delivered his first speech on American soil. “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,” the pope said, speaking entirely in English.
In a country the pope said he knows was "largely built" by immigrant families, he made his speech on the South Lawn of the White House with some 20,000 people in attendance. His first speech touched on several of the prominent themes of his papacy, including immigration, religious liberty and climate change.
“Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the pope said. “When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.”
Obama thanked Pope Francis for his environment encyclical and also praised the pope's leadership style. “Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example," he said. "In these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.”
Several Jesuits attended the White House welcoming ceremony, including Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; Father Thomas Reese, SJ, senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter; and Fr. Robert Niehoff, president of John Carroll University in Cleveland.
Marquette University President Michael Lovell, who was also in attendance, said, “Words can't express how amazing it was to see Pope Francis speak at the White House this morning.”
Following the ceremony, the Obamas and the pope stepped into the White House, where the president and the pope sat down for private talks in the Oval Office. The two also exchanged official gifts. Pope Francis gave the president a bronze bas-relief of a medallion from the World Meeting of Families, and Obama presented Pope Francis with a sculpture of an ascending dove, incorporating an original armature bar from the Statue of Liberty, preserved during the statue's centennial restoration. Obama also presented a key from the Maryland home of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S.-born person to be named a saint.
President Obama greets Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)
The pope then rode in his popemobile for a parade before tens of thousands of cheering people lining the streets around the White House.
The papal motorcade later went on to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where Pope Francis addressed more than 300 U.S. bishops. The pope shared with them his own experience as a pastor and urged them to keep their eyes focused on Jesus and their hearts open to others.
Pope Francis gives a thumbs up to the crowd as he rides down Constitution Avenue in his popemobile. (CNS photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters)
Pope Francis concluded the day with the canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the first Mass he celebrated in the U.S. [Sources: CNS, ABC News, CNN]
Father Art Liebscher, SJ, and Fr. Michael Castori, SJ, awaiting Pope Francis for the canonization Mass. (Matthew Carnes, SJ)