The Latest: Pope Francis about to welcome big US crowds

AP News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 6:06 PM
The Latest: Pope Francis about to welcome big US crowds

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest developments in Pope Francis' visit to the United States. All times local:

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5:20 p.m.

Pope Francis is no stranger to crowds. But he'll soon be immersed in his first big ones on U.S. soil.

Francis opened his first trip to the U.S. on Tuesday with an arrival ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, before settling in for the night at the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington.

On Wednesday, he'll be at the White House for a morning ceremony on the South Lawn, to which some 15,000 people have been invited. He'll also have a meeting with President Barack Obama, who greeted him upon landing at Andrews.

Then it's a popemobile parade by the National Mall and prayers with several hundred bishops at St. Matthew's Cathedral. About 30,000 people are expected at a late afternoon mass with Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On Thursday the pope is addressing Congress and visiting with Catholic charities before he leaves for New York and Philadelphia.

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4:55 p.m.

Pope Francis is settling in for his first night in the U.S.

The pope arrived just before 5 p.m. at the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in the heart of Washington. Well-wishers in fancy clothes stood behind metal fencing, straining for a view of the pope's arriving car.

Ferrying Francis through Washington's streets was a Fiat 500L, sandwiched between two enormous black SUVs in the motorcade. Francis has made a point of using modest cars as part of his emphasis on simplicity and conservatism and rejection of today's consumerist lifestyle.

The pope spent a few minutes greeting onlookers outside the nunciature before heading inside. He'll spend the night there before meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday and addressing Congress on Thursday.

The nunciature was built for the Catholic church in the 1930s. Its architect was Frederick V. Murphy, who founded the architectural department at The Catholic University of America in Washington in 1911.

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4:45 p.m.

Pope Francis says a life sentence in prison is like "dying every day," and says there are proposals within the Catholic church to call for an end to life terms.

The pontiff spoke on his flight from Cuba to the U.S., where he will visit a prison later this week.

Francis called life prison terms a "hidden death penalty" because, "You're there, without the hope of liberation."

He spoke in response to a question about Cuban prisoners and dissidents and said the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba will continue to work to free them.

The pope has arrived in Washington for a six-day visit to three U.S. cities. President Barack Obama greeted him upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.

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4:20 p.m.

Pope Francis is eschewing a fancy limousine in favor of a more modest ride.

A few minutes after his plane touched down at Andrews Ait Force base outside Washington, Francis emerged from the airport terminal along with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. He got into the backseat of a small, black Fiat — then promptly rolled the windows down, allowing him to look out and smile at the watching crowds.

It's a sight you wouldn't see in Obama's motorcade. The president traditionally keeps the windows in his limousine rolled up for security reasons.

Seconds later, the pope's car began rolling away. The pope offered a final wave before departing.

Outside the terminal, many in the crowd cheered a jubilant, "Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, Welcome to the U.S.A."

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4:10 p.m.

Pope Francis is getting a rock-star welcome as he arrives for his first visit to the U.S.

Crowds at Andrews Air Force Base cheered as the pope's plane touched down. Shortly after, President Barack Obama walked from the air base's terminal to the plane, where the American flag and the Vatican flag are waving.

The president waved to the crowds as he accompanied his wife and daughters to the red carpet at the front of the plane.

Francis emerged to thunderous cheers, taking off his white cap as he descended the stairs on a windy and rainy day.

He smiled broadly and said hello to individual well-wishers before walking along the red carpet alongside Obama.

The pope stopped at the end of the red carpet to accept a bouquet of flowers from a young girl. Then he and Obama proceeded with their entourages past the crowd and into the terminal.

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4:05 p.m.

Pope Francis says he won't make a specific call for the U.S. to lift the Cuba blockade in his speech to Congress this week.

Francis was asked by a Cuban reporter en route to Washington to give his thoughts about the embargo and whether he would raise it in his speech Thursday, the first ever by a pope to Congress.

Francis said the question of the embargo is part of the U.S.-Cuba normalization process underway and, "My desire is that they arrive at a good result, that they reach an agreement that satisfies both sides."

He says he'll discuss bilateral and multinational relations in his Congress speech, but that the concrete issue of the Cuban embargo "isn't mentioned."

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4 p.m.

Pope Francis is defending himself against conservative criticism of his economic views. He says he's only repeating the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

During his flight to Washington from Cuba, the pontiff told reporters that some explanations of his writings may have given the impression that he's "a little bit more left-leaning." He says such explanations are wrong.

Francis was asked to comment on questions by U.S. conservative commentators about whether he's a communist or even Catholic.

Francis said, "I am certain that I have never said anything beyond what is in the social doctrine of the church."

Joking about whether he was truly Catholic, he added, "If I have to recite the Creed, I'm ready."

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3:52 p.m.

Pope Francis has arrived in the United States.

His chartered airplane is on the ground at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington after delivering the leader of the world's Roman Catholics on his first-ever U.S. visit.

Francis landed after a flight from Cuba, where he wrapped up a four-day visit.

Before leaving the communist island country, Francis appealed to Cubans to rediscover their Catholic heritage and live a "revolution of tenderness."

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are at Andrews to welcome the pope.

Obama and Francis will meet one on one at the White House on Wednesday.

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3:50 p.m.

Politicians and their families, archbishops and Catholic children are converging to welcome Pope Francis to the United States.

In addition to President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, the welcoming party includes first daughters Malia and Sasha Obama and their grandmother, Marian Robinson.

The White House says Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are attending, along with two of their grandchildren, Maisy and Finnegan. Biden is the first Catholic vice president.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and the archbishop of Washington are joining them. The White House says the Vatican also picked four elementary and middle school children from the Washington area to greet the pope and present him with flowers.

The official guests join a crowd of others on bleachers waiting to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. Some 23 Catholic schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia are represented, along with about 400 local military members and their families.

The crowd practiced cheers of, "We love Francis, how about you?" and "Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, Pope Francis is on the way."

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3:30 p.m.

Last-minute preparations for the pope's arrival are under way at a military base outside Washington, and President Barack Obama's motorcade is pulling up.

The Armed Forces Full Honor Cordon from the Military District of Washington has rolled out the red carpet for the pontiff. This, as 37 boys from the DeMatha Catholic High School Wind Ensemble, dressed in maroon and navy blazers, warmed up their instruments and the crowd as they awaited the pope's arrival.

Waverly Harris, a sophomore at the all-boys school in Hyattsville, Maryland, says it's an honor to greet Pope Francis on his first U.S. tour.

Harris is a percussionist and confesses he's "a little nervous" but adds "it's a big deal to play for him."

The boys will serenade the pope with "Happy" by Pharrell Williams and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

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2 p.m.

The White House says President Barack Obama's decision to greet Pope Francis personally when he arrives at a U.S. military base just outside Washington is a symbol of the high level of respect that Americans have for the pontiff.

Press secretary Josh Earnest says Francis is a source of inspiration not just for Catholics, but for people of all religions around the world who share the pope's values.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives will be at Andrews Air Force Base to welcome Francis on his first visit ever to the U.S.

There's also precedent for making the trip.

Then-President George W. Bush traveled to the base in 2008 when then-Pope Benedict XVI arrived on a U.S. visit.

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1:50 p.m.

Pope Francis is popular, tends to wade into crowds and likes to travel in an open-sided Jeep.

Altogether, that means complications for U.S. law enforcement as authorities mount an enormous security operation to keep him safe in the United States.

In a six-day, three-city visit that starts late Tuesday afternoon, the pope will meet with President Barack Obama, address Congress, speak at the United Nations in New York and take part in a Vatican conference on families in Philadelphia. He concluded his visit to Cuba earlier in the day.

The security precautions could make it nearly impossible for many ordinary Americans to get close to the pope, and for many people to go about their business in those cities.

Francis goes to the White House on Wednesday morning. Some 15,000 people have been invited to the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.

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1:20 p.m.

The visit by Pope Francis to the U.S. will mark his second meeting with President Barack Obama.

They first met in March 2014 at the Vatican.

Afterward, the Vatican and the White House offered differing accounts of what the leaders discussed during their nearly hour-long meeting.

Obama stressed their common ground on fighting inequality and poverty while Vatican officials emphasized the importance to the Roman Catholic Church of what they called "rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection."

That point referred to a major disagreement over mandatory contraceptive coverage under Obama's health care law.