WASHINGTON -- A secular gathering began the day at the White House, then a parade and prayer with 350 U.S. bishops. They gave the Holy Father money, collected for the poor. The gesture, the generosity of the religious from our wealthy nation to those in need, brought a smile to the pontiff’s face. It echoed the suggestion he urged for all people in this country.
While it may take time for the message pilgrims heard to sink in, on the national mall people just wanted to see and touch their Catholic leader. Security -- both U.S. Secret Service and Swiss Army Guards -- left their brightly striped uniforms at home, dressed in plainclothes, brought babies to his holiness to bless. The sun was beating down through the US-made Jeep pope-mobile. Warm but energetic, the pope smiled and waved as the faithful screamed and cheered. It was the first time for the general public to get close to their pontiff.
Earlier in the day was an official state welcome at the White House, where speeches from both the president and the pope mirrored one another, addressing climate change, the needs of the poor, refugees, mercy, religious freedom and Cuba -- though the pope did not mention Cuba by name.