Under gray skies, Pope Francis arrived Tuesday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, marking the first of an historic visit to the United States.
Pope Francis’ Air Italia jet, dubbed Shepherd 1, touched down at 3:49 p.m. at the suburban Washington base. Waiting to greet him were U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michele Obama and their two daughters, along with other U.S. officials.
The pope also was met by a retinue of cardinals, dressed in black cassocks with scarlet sashes. Hundreds of other spectators gathered on bleachers.
"Pope Francis! Pope Francis!" rose a chant as the pontiff descended stairs from the airliner.
Washington is the first stop on a six-day visit to three U.S. East Coast cities: Washington, New York and Philadelphia. The final stop culminates with this weekend’s World Meeting of Families.
Francis came straight from a four-day trip to Cuba, a progression that makes sense not only geographically but symbolically. The pontiff played a backstage role in reconnecting the former Cold War rivals in a thaw announced in December.
In Cuba, the Latin American pope celebrated a Mass – the last of three – at the Basilica of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country's holiest shrine. With President Raul Castro attending, the pontiff urged Cubans to rediscover their Catholic heritage and live a “revolution of tenderness."
The pope's homily was the latest in a series of carefully worded critiques of Cuba’s atheist communist government. Installed after the 1959 revolution, it sought to replace the church as a guiding force in people's lives.
During a visit to the shrine Monday, the pope prayed for reconciliation among all Cubans, both at home and around the world.