Pope Francis plunged into a crowd of Catholic school students Wednesday morning, shaking hands and being hugged and kissed as he embarked on a whirlwind series of parades and appearances across the District, including an arrival ceremony with President Obama on the South Lawn of the White House.
The pope emerged from the Vatican Nunciature, in Northwest Washington, where he spent the night, shortly before 9 a.m. and made a bee line for the cheering students gathered behind bicycle barriers.
He smiled, chatted and shook hands as he worked his way along the line for several minutes and the young people waved yellow and white papal flags, embraced him and took pictures.
One man leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “Papa!” people yelled. “Papa!
After about 10 minutes, the pope departed the White House for the meeting with Obama and thousands of dignitaries. He arrived there at 9:23 a.m.
Elsewhere, individuals, groups and families with children bundled against the morning chill trooped downtown and lined up outside security barricades near the pope’s parade route south of the White House.
Others began walking or riding in after early morning Masses at churches across the region to mark Francis’s first visit to the United States.
When the gates to one secure area around the parade route opened around 5:15 a.m. near Lafayette Park, people ran to get through the area and U.S. Secret Service agents ordered them to slow down.
“It was like a Black Friday at a department store,” Christopher Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said of the rush.
Nearby, priests heard the confessions of the faithful, and in Northwest Washington, a throng of Catholic school children chanted and waved flags outside the Vatican Nunciature.
“We love Franicis, yes we do! We love Francis, how bout you?” they hollered.
The pope was scheduled to visit the White House and then ride in a popemobile along a parade route around the Ellipse, south of the White House and near the Washington Monument.
He is also scheduled to visit Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle around noon to pray with several hundred bishops, and then celebrate a 4:15 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington.
On Thursday, Francis will make the first address by a pope to a joint meeting of Congress. Afterward, he is scheduled to appear on the balcony of the West Front of the Capitol to greet a crowd that was expected to swell to about 50,000.
Large crowds expected both days, and streets will be thronged and periodically cordoned off across the city as the pope crisscrosses the District.
He is scheduled to leave for New York on Thursday, then travel Saturday to Philadelphia in a visit that will end Sunday.
The popular 78-year-old Argentina-born pope, who has softened the church’s tone, focused on climate change and the poor, and seized a spot on the global stage, is making his first trip ever to the United States.
People of all stripes showed showed up Wednesday.
A large group from the Church of the Sacred Heart, known better as Sagrado Corazon to its majority Latino congregation in Columbia Heights, headed from Mass to the Ellipse.
Among the wooden crosses, white balloons and smartphones they carried, a few parishioners held rolled up signs, “working people welcome Pope Francis,” printed by the labor organization AFL-CIO.
The political dynamic of the pope’s visit is not lost on this largely immigrant group. They know what they want to hear from Pope Francis.
“I hope his words change things,” said Fidel Larios, 47, of Columbia Heights. “I hope he speaks sincerely so people will do the right thing.”
When he talks about change, Larios said he is referring to the one thing so many in this crowd want: immigration reform. He’s been waiting for it and is tired, he said, of broken promises.
Near the Washington Monument, the Kolodzieski family from Apex, N.C., made their own paper papal bishop’s mitres and claimed a spot along Constitution Avenue.
“I felt very strongly that I wanted to see him,” said Carol Kolodzieski.
“I think it’s something they can carry through their entire lives,” said her husband Scott, referring to their three children seeing the pope in person. As for her New York Yankees shirt, Carol said: “We pray for them all the time too.”
For the Silvani family of Potomac, the chance to see Pope Francis in Washington was a matter of national pride.
Their parents are from Argentina and so all eight siblings _ five brothers and three sisters — brought their families to the corner of 17th and E streets where they’re looking forward to seeing the first Argentine-born pope.
When Francis was elected pope, “we were screaming. It was pure excitement,” said Gabriella Silvani.
So when plans for a D.C. visit were announced, the family knew they had to mobilize.
At 5 a.m. Wednesday, Gabriela, Matias, Carolina, Sebastian, Lorena, Agustin, Ezequiel and Tomas headed to the Ellipse with their families, many wearing Argentinian sky blue and white and some sporting Messi jerseys.
Their parents, Carlos and Elizabeth, skipped the parade but they won’t miss the pope. They have tickets to the mass at Catholic University later today.
Some in the crowd were opposed to the Francis..
Five people wearing “Repent or Perish” T-shirts walked up Constitution Avenue toward the security checkpoint at 14 Street NW. They carried tall black signs with white lettering. One said “The Pope Is the Antichrist,” and that was enough to incite the crowd of about 1,000 waiting for admission to the Ellipse.
“Let’s go Francis!” chanted Arlington resident Michael Jackson, and others joined him, breaking out their guitars and singing “Francisco! Francisco!” But the sign bearers had bullhorns.
“If you see a man in a white robe, it’s all external righteousness,” said one protester with a bullhorn. “It’s filthy. The pope is a blasphemous, wicked wretch. He needs to renounce the papacy or burn in fire.”
The protesters said they are born-again Christians from a church called All Grace on the Eastern Shore. Jackson, who wore a University of Notre Dame cap and polo shirt, stood directly in front of the bullhorn.
“How can I learn if you won’t have a conversation with me?” Jackson, 25, asked one of the protesters.
“I’m not your answer,” the protester said, before going back to shouting about false idols. “Go ask God.”
The pope arrived in Washington Tuesday to a joyous greeting from well-wishers as he began the historic visit that millions of Americans have been awaiting and for which three of the country’s great cities have been anxiously preparing.
The pope’s white and green Alitalia jetliner touched down at 3:50 p.m. on a flight from Cuba, at the start of a spiritual and political journey that will take him to the centers of U.S. government, power and history.
Beneath gray skies, the pope stepped off the airplane at 4:05 p.m. at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County and was welcomed by President Obama and a cheering crowd assembled on metal bleachers.
The pope took off his white skullcap as he walked down the steps from the jet to the windy tarmac to greet first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Jill Biden and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, among others.
As he walked along an airport red carpet with his unusual gait, a group of Catholic clergy clad in black cassocks with crimson sashes were lined up, and the throng of mostly young people chanted, “Ho ho, hey hey, welcome to the USA!”
A crowd of dignitaries, students and a band from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., gathered on the bleachers, chanting “We love Francis! How about you!” before the pope’s arrival.
In an atmosphere that was part pep rally, part prayer group, the band played pop music tunes and members of the welcoming committee said Hail Marys as they waited for the pope’s plane.
When Francis finished greeting the dignitaries, he approached four schoolchildren, who presented him with a bouquet of white flowers. He smiled, bent over and spoke with them.
The pope left the base in a motorcade, riding in a small black Fiat, escorted by huge SUVs, and waving through the open window as he headed for the Vatican’s Apostolic Nunciature in Northwest Washington, where he rested overnight.
In a news conference held in the District after the pope’s arrival, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, called the visit a “new encounter.”
Francis “has an attitude of one to receive, not just to give,” he said.
Among those in the crowd at the base were Dorothy Newman, 74, and her longtime friend Betty Lee, who said she was “around the same age,” of St. Joseph’s parish in Largo, Md.
The two seemed delighted as they left the ceremony. Lee held a balled-up tissue she had used to wipe tears from her eyes.
Newman said she has seen all three recent popes, but no one like Francis.
“He’s just saying what the people want to hear and have wanted to hear for a long time,” she said, clutching a water bottle.
The Mass Wednesday afternoon is being celebrated with 25,000 people to canonize Junípero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan priest who founded historic missions in California.
The pope has drawn attention with recent statements about the dangers of global warming. He softened the tone of the church on its opposition to homosexuality and recently moved to ease the granting of marriage annulments.
On the flight from Cuba, Francis seemed to reject characterizations of himself as aligned with any particular political movement. “I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” he told reporters. “I follow the church, and in this, I do not think I am wrong.”
“Maybe I have given an impression of being a little bit to the left,” he said. “But if they want me to recite the Creed, I can!”
The pope arrived in the United States after a visit to Cuba, during which he urged Cubans to undertake a “revolution of tenderness’’ at a time of change as the nation reestablishes relations with the United States after decades of Cold War-spawned hostility.
David Montgomery, Nick Miroff, Fenit Nirappil, Mike DeBonis, Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.