CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Catholic students present Pope Francis with flowers after the Holy Father was greeted by President Obama and other dignitaries at Joint Base Andrews on Sept. 22. The pope arrived in Washington to begin his six-day pastoral visit to the United States, after visiting Cuba. The students are, from left to right, Jocelyn Aquino, Karlena Somerville, Langston Davis and Zachary Alderman. About 300 students and 200 young adults from the Archdiocese of Washington attended the pope’s arrival at the base.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Catholic students present Pope Francis with flowers after the Holy Father was greeted by President Obama and other dignitaries at Joint Base Andrews on Sept. 22. The pope arrived in Washington to begin his six-day pastoral visit to the United States, after visiting Cuba. The students are, from left to right, Jocelyn Aquino, Karlena Somerville, Langston Davis and Zachary Alderman. About 300 students and 200 young adults from the Archdiocese of Washington attended the pope’s arrival at the base.
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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, led a group of government and religious leaders at Joint Base Andrews Sept. 22 in welcoming Pope Francis on his historic first visit to the United States.

Hundreds gathered to welcome the Holy Father as he began his first-ever journey to the United States with a 48-hour visit to Washington.  His Sept. 22-27 visit also includes stops in New York and Philadelphia. 

Under cloudy skies and slightly cool temperatures, the plane carrying the Holy Father, Vatican dignitaries and a host of foreign journalists pulled up to the landing area at precisely 4 p.m.

Stepping out of the Alitalia jet dubbed “Shepherd One,” the pope was greeted with the cheers and shouts of the students from archdiocesan elementary schools and high schools, young adults, military members and their families and others.

He was also greeted with the flourish and pomp of a color guard. Music was provided by the student musicians of the Wind Ensemble from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. 

DeMatha senior Egan O’Brien admitted to “a little bit of butterflies even though I know all the songs,” but said he would not want to be anywhere else except playing music at the pope’s arrival.

“This is a great honor for not just myself, but DeMatha also,” he said. 

David Gardiner, DeMatha’s dean of students, said the wind ensemble’s performance at the pope’s arrival was a source of pride for the entire school.

“We have definitely been upbeat about this,” he said. “This has become part of our curriculum as we focused on the pope. We know just how historic this is, and it is truly humbling.” 

Prior to leaving the aircraft, Pope Francis was greeted on board by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States.

After descending the stairs, he was greeted by President and Mrs. Obama.

Traditionally, foreign dignitaries and heads of state who arrive at Andrews are met not by the president, but by a small delegation in an arrival ceremony not normally opened to the public. The president usually greets foreign dignitaries at a formal White House reception. 

But, such was not the case for Pope Francis, as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were at the air base to greet the Holy Father. They continued a precedent set by President George W. Bush in 2008 when he traveled to the suburban Maryland facility to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit to the United States.

Church leaders joining Cardinal Wuerl in greeting Pope Francis at the airbase included Washington Auxiliary Bishops Martin Holley, Barry Knestout and Mario Dorsonville; Bishop Francisco González, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington; Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, vice president of the USCCB; Baltimore Archbishop William Lori; and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

Civic leaders who also gathered to greet the Holy Father included Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden; and Kenneth Hackett, the United States’ ambassador to the Holy See. 

After greeting the dignitaries, Pope Francis was presented with flowers by local Catholic students. The students were Karlena Somerville, a first grader at St. Philip the Apostle School in Camp Springs; Langston Davis, a third grader at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Academy in Washington; Zachary Alderman, a fifth grade public school student who is enrolled in faith formation classes and is an altar server at Sacred Heart Church in Bushwood; and Jocelyn Aquino, a seventh grade students at Sacred Heart School in Washington. 

After thanking the children, the Holy Father was escorted by President Obama to a building near the tarmac, where the two spoke privately for several minutes.

Cheering well-wishers, including military personnel and their families, senior military officials, Catholics from around the region and others waited up to five hours on the tarmac to see the pontiff arrive. The guests at Joint Base Andrews included about 300 students and 200 young adults from the Archdiocese of Washington. The arrival ceremony itself was brief, and no speeches were made.

Joining the enthusiastic crowds was Fidel A. Castro, a 34-year-old member of St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Wheaton. “I’m the second Fidel he is going to see on this trip,” Castro joked, referring to the former Cuban head of state whom Pope Francis visited in that country prior to arriving in the United States.

“I can’t believe we are the first people to greet the pope in the United States,” Castro said. “He appeals to so many young people not because he is saying something new, but because he is saying it in a different way.” 

Sam Mather, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Catholic Church in Landover Hills, joined other hearing impaired Catholics in welcoming the pope.

“I am just thrilled to be here for this special occasion,” he signed through an interpreter. “We love him, and he is like a father to us.”

Kristen Miller, a 19-year-old sophomore studying nursing at the University of Maryland and a member of the Catholic Student Center there, said she had one wish: “I would like to tell him (Pope Francis), ‘Thank you for loving the faith and thank you for sharing it with us.’”

“This is really a great honor to be here,” said Matthew Whitely, a DeMatha senior and member of the school’s Wind Ensemble. “I am really excited to have this opportunity. Right now I am feeling a lot of pride in my school, my faith and my country.”