Pope Francis addressed a crowd of thousands on lawn of the White House on Wednesday morning, kicking off his historic first visit to the United States.
"I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans," the Argentinean Pope said, speaking in English with some difficulty. "As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people."
The pontifex brought up two hotly debated topics during his address: religious freedom and climate change.
"With countless other people of goodwill, [American Catholics] are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty," Pope Francis said to the crowd. "That freedom reminds one of America's most precious possessions ... all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."
Francis also commended Obama for his efforts to combat climate change. "Mr. President, I am finding it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution, accepting the urgency. It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to future generations. When it comes to the care of our common home we are living at a critical moment of history." This remark was met with applause from the masses on gathered on the White House lawn.
The 78-year-old pontifex also reiterated his calls for social justice and an end to income equality - opinions which have led conservative to brand the Pope as a liberal. On the flight over, Francis fended off such criticism, saying that although people may have gotten a mistaken impression that he is "a little bit more left-leaning," he is "certain that I have never said anything beyond what is the social doctrine of the church."
Photo credit: ABC News