President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis wave during an arrival ceremony for the pope on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2015. More than 15,000 people packed the South Lawn for a full ceremonial welcome of Pope Francis for his first visit to the United States.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama officially welcomed Pope Francis during an arrival ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House.

According to the White House, the crowd joining the president in welcoming the iconic religious figure totaled some 11,000 ticketed guests, not counting staff, military, press or other members of official parties. 

"Our backyard is not typically this crowded—but the size and spirit of today's gathering is just a small reflection of the deep devotion of some 70 million American Catholics … and the way your message of love and hope has inspired so many people, across our nation and around the world," the president quipped, according to prepared remarks, in welcoming the pope. "On behalf of the American people, it is my great honor and privilege to welcome you to the United States of America."

It is the pope's first visit to the United States, and Obama eagerly noted the ability to now "reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality [that the pope] extended to [him] at the Vatican," when the president visited last year. 

In his remarks, Obama praised the pope's works, as well as his "unique qualities as a person." 


"Your humility, your embrace of simplicity, the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus' teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds," Obama said. "You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the 'least of these' at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture's call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity—because we are all made in the image of God."

After the official ceremony, Pope Francis was scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with the president before being escorted to lead a prayer at St. Matthew's Cathedral with U.S. bishops. 

Later in the afternoon, the pope is expected to hold a canonization Mass in Spanish, his native tongue, for 25,000 ticket holders at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. According to USA Today, it is the first-ever canonization Mass on U.S. soil. 


Pope Francis arrived in Washington, D.C., from Cuba Tuesday afternoon to begin the U.S. branch of his tour. He was greeted by the president at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

According to a pool report, he was welcomed by a crowd that cheered, "We love Francis, yes we do. We love Francis, how about you?" and "Ho, ho, hey, hey, welcome to the USA."

Read more at USA Today.