Pope Francis arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, evoking a passionate response from the throngs of supporters lining the barricades nearby. After descending the steps of the Alitalia flight AZ 4000 — or "Shepherd One" as it's known among American press — the Pope, along with President Obama and the first family, walked together down an unfurled pink carpet to rounds of raucous applause. Waving and posing for photos after his arrival, Pope Francis seemed more like a celebrity pop star than a religious leader. And he had the entourage to prove it.
With herds of secret service members and security surrounding the papal leader, Pope Francis made his way down the line, occasionally stopping to clasp hands and flashing benevolent smiles to those he couldn't reach. "This is amazing," wrote one Twitter user excitedly. "The Pope is really here in the U.S. ... wish I was there!" Another woman watching the event unfold Tweeted that the initial moments were "so moving."
With this latest visit, Pope Francis becomes just the fourth pope to ever visit the United States, although his predecessors Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI made several stops over the years, to similar fanfare. Regardless, the occasion was still considered momentous, and photos of the afternoon began flooding news pages and social media alike within minutes of the papal leader's arrival.
The crowd became rowdy as soon as the doors were opened, with supporters chanting, "We love Francis, yes we do. We love Francis, how 'bout you?"
The cheers only grew louder as the pope and first family began descending the pink carpet together:
While a large number in the crowd cheered on President Obama himself, it seemed that most of the buzzing excitement was focused on the papal leader instead:
The pope took a few moments to greet those lucky enough to reach out and greet him personally, including four children "in first, third, fifth and seventh grades from different Catholic schools in the Washington area":
The crowds of chanting supporters weren't the only ones smiling, either:
Soon, it was time to head off for the White House. Pope Francis, who has previously chided the public for not focusing enough energy on finding ways to combat climate change, climbed into a small black Fiat and sped away, waving to several bleachers of papal super-fans:
Over the next few days, Francis is expected to address Congress and make several stops throughout Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. Although most of the venues along his route will include cathedrals such as St. Patrick's Catholic Church, he is also scheduled to appear at the United Nations headquarters, and will lead a multi-religious ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.