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A son of immigrants
visits a nation of immigrants

“I should explain that our backyard is not typically this crowded”, President Barack Obama quipped, as he greeted Pope Francis at the official White House welcome ceremony. Indeed, the South Lawn was covered with platoons of the Armed Forces and the more than 15,000 people who had been invited for the occasion. It was, as Obama described it, a beautiful day, and not just because of the weather.

Pope Francis is the third pope to visit the White House. Before him, Jimmy Carter welcomed John Paul ii on 6 October 1979, and Benedict xvi visited with George W. Bush on his birthday, 16 April 2008 (indeed the President presented the Pope with a birthday cake). Francis is, however, the first Pontiff from Latin America to visit Washington, dc.

The Pope arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at 9 am and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were there to greet him. The ceremony began with the national anthem by the band of the Marine Corps. Then President Obama took the floor, welcoming the Pope on behalf of all Americans, and thanking Francis for his “passionate voice against the deadly conflicts” and for his “invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people”. Then the Pontiff, speaking in English, introduced himself as a son of immigrants — after which he received a round of applause, especially from a group of Argentines — and as the guest of a nation which has been built on immigrants. Recalling the need to leave a better world for future generations, Francis applauded the President’s initiative for clean air, and quoting Martin Luther King, he touched on how our common home has been excluded. The Holy Father concluded his address with the phrase “God bless America”, and a gospel choir performed a song.

Then President Obama and Pope Francis entered the South Portico of the White House, where the delegations were presented. They then continued to the Oval Office where they met a small group of journalists and photographers. Meanwhile in the Cabinet Room Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cardinal Parolin to discuss the embargo on Cuba, the situation in the Middle East and the issue of refugees.

Gaetano Vallini on assignment in Washington

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