WASHINGTON — The pope of the poor arrived for his first-ever visit to the world’s wealthiest superpower Tuesday denying he is a leftist and riding in a frugal little family car, windows rolled down.
Pope Francis’ chartered plane from Cuba touched down at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where President Barack Obama and his wife and daughters paid him the rare honor of meeting him at the bottom of the stairs on the red-carpeted tarmac. Presidents usually make important visitors come to them at the White House.
Emerging from the aircraft to loud cheers from a crowd of hundreds, the smiling 78-year-old pontiff removed his skullcap in the windy weather and made his way down the steps in his white robes.
He was welcomed by a military honor guard, chanting schoolchildren, politicians, and Roman Catholic clerics in black robes with vivid sashes of scarlet and purple. Joe Biden, the nation’s first Catholic vice president, and his wife were among those who greeted him.
Eschewing a limousine, the pope climbed into the back of a little Fiat sandwiched between huge black SUVs. He promptly rolled down the windows, enabling the cheering, whooping crowds to see him as his motorcade took him to the Vatican diplomatic mission in Washington, where he will stay while in the nation’s capital.
The choice of car was in keeping with his simple habits and his stand against consumerism. His decision to roll down the windows reflected his penchant for trying to connect to ordinary people despite the tight security around him.
During his six-day, three-city visit to the U.S., the pope will meet with the president on Wednesday, address Congress on Thursday, speak at the United Nations in New York on Friday and take part in a Vatican-sponsored conference on the family in Philadelphia over the weekend.