WASHINGTON — Welcomed with a fanfare of trumpets and a chorus of amens, Pope Francis introduced himself to the United States on Wednesday with a bracing message on climate change, immigration and poverty that ranged from the pastoral to the political.
On a day that blended the splendor of an ancient church with the frenzy of a modern rock star tour, Francis waded quietly but forcefully into some of the most polarizing issues of American civic life. Along the way, he underscored just how much he has upended the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church and reordered its priorities.
Perhaps no one was more pleased than President Obama, who greeted him with an elaborate arrival ceremony at the White House, where the pope explicitly embraced the administration’s efforts to combat climate change. At a later speech to American bishops, Francis, the first pope from Latin America, pressed for openness to immigrants, marking a signal day for Hispanics in the United States.
While the last two popes focused on traditional moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, Francis left those to the side in Mr. Obama’s presence. With the bishops, he spoke about the “innocent victim of abortion” but mentioned the issue as only one of a long list of concerns, including children who die of hunger or in bombings, immigrants who “drown in the search for a better tomorrow” and an environment “devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.”
“Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the pope told a crowd of thousands on the South Lawn of the White House in his first major speech in English. “As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
Still, in a low-key but evident break with Mr. Obama, Francis at the end of the day made a previously unannounced stop to see the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor to underscore his support for religious freedom, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. The Little Sisters religious order sued the federal government over the birth control mandate in Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Wearing his white cassock and skullcap, Francis was greeted everywhere he went by joyful crowds. Catholics and non-Catholics alike juggled their cellphones and small flags of the Holy See as they craned for a glimpse of the 266th pope — only the fourth to visit the United States and third to visit Washington.
The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics led a short parade around the Ellipse in his open-air popemobile, waving and making the sign of the cross as Vatican officials brought him babies to kiss. He later celebrated Mass for more than 20,000 people and presided over the first canonization in the United States.
In his first visit to the United States, Francis, 78, seemed eager to pass over his previous criticisms of a materialistic, capitalist culture and instead reach out to the world’s most powerful nation. He praised the country’s devotion to freedom of liberty and religion even as he cautioned that its vast resources demanded a deep sense of moral responsibility. “God bless America,” he said at the White House.
The pope arrived at the White House in a modest Fiat to find a crowd of 11,000 people, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State John Kerry and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic minority leader, all Catholics, as well as about half of the members of Congress. The White House rolled out its best color guards, including a fife-and-drum corps, but opted against the 21-gun salute that is traditional for such ceremonies.
Mr. Obama thanked the pope for his help in restoring American diplomatic relations with Cuba and hailed him for speaking out for the world’s most impoverished. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” he said. “You call on us to rejoice in good news and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just and more free.”
In his own remarks, the pope noted the country’s origins at a time when critics of illegal immigration were pushing to build a wall at the southern border. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families,” Francis said.
Multimedia Feature | Francis in America News and features on Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia in September.
He devoted more of his address to climate change than any other topic. “Mr. President,” Francis said, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.” He added that there was still time to heal the planet for its children. “To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it,” he said.
The ceremony brought together two men with starkly disparate backgrounds and yet commonalities that have united them now, a community organizer from Chicago and a priest from Argentina, both presenting themselves as champions of those without any. While they first met last year at the Vatican, their appearance on Wednesday carried a visual and possibly a political power that solidified the impression of a secular-theological alliance.
Republicans, who have said they disagree with the pope on climate change and capitalism, nonetheless largely kept such thoughts to themselves and instead focused instead on the majesty of the day. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate who converted to Catholicism, attended the afternoon Mass with the pope and posted a picture on Twitter.
After meeting alone with the president and an interpreter in the Oval Office, the pope went to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where the crowd swelled so deep that for many the only sign of the pope’s arrival was a cheer echoing through nearby streets. A crowd of more than 50 people inside a restaurant pressed against windows facing the cathedral and stood eagerly on chairs to get a better view.
As the pope entered the cathedral, the rector, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, threw his arms open wide. As he walked down the church’s center aisle between rows of bishops in pink zucchettos, some of them held up phones and cameras to take pictures.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Ore., posted on Twitter from his seat in the pews: “Pope Francis has arrived!”
Addressing nearly 300 bishops, whom he referred to as his brothers, the pope was warm and encouraging, but he also spoke clearly and with simple language that was unmistakable in its emphasis. He praised the bishops for their work on behalf of immigrants, and for the first time praised their “courage” in handling the church’s sexual abuse scandals.
“I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice,” the pope told the bishops.
Those remarks brought applause from the bishops but later drew indignation from survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates. Dennis Coday, the editor of The National Catholic Reporter, an independent outlet that helped reveal sexual abuse by priests, said the pope’s comments would prompt victims to conclude, “He just doesn’t get it.”
Speaking to bishops who have not always agreed with his spiritual emphasis, the pope said that he had “not come to judge you or to lecture you.” But he said the “style of our mission” should make parishioners feel that the message was meant for them. “Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants,” he instructed.
Francis also pressed his case for particular attention to immigrants and refugees as a primary responsibility of the church. Speaking of the recent surge of migration from Latin America, he acknowledged that parishes may be “challenged by their diversity.”
“But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared — so do not be afraid to welcome them,” he said. “I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its church.”
Latinos who flocked to see the pontiff said they were not surprised that he would highlight an issue of critical importance to a community with increasing influence in American politics — and an expanding target for political backlash.
“He understands Americans — he is one,” Oscar Lefranc, 55, said. “He’s lived it. He’s experienced it.”
Later in the afternoon, the pope went to the campus of Catholic University of America to celebrate his first Mass in the United States and to canonize Junípero Serra, a Franciscan who founded missions across California in the 1700s.
The pope greeted the enthusiastic crowd before entering the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic church.
Before the homily, the pope declared Father Serra to be a saint. “Having given mature deliberation and having begged the help of divine grace, and the opinion of many of our brothers, blessed Junípero Serra we discern and define to be a saint,” the pope said, speaking in Spanish.
Olga Herrera, 30, and eight other members of a young-adults group at St. Camillus Catholic Church of Silver Spring, Md., all of them from Guatemala, cheered when Francis accepted the proclamation made on behalf of Father Serra’s sainthood.
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Correction: September 23, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the church group that Olga Herrera was with when Pope Francis accepted the proclamation made on behalf of Junípero Serra’s sainthood. It was the group with St. Camillus Catholic Church of Silver Spring, Md., not the group with St. Catherine Laboure Church in Wheaton, Md.
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