US President Barack Obama has welcomed Pope Francis to Washington.
A crowd of 15,000 watched as the pope and president stood to attention on a red-carpeted platform decorated with red, white and blue bunting for the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States.
Just before the pope arrived, Obama had tweeted to the Holy Father: “Welcome to the White House,Pontifex! Your messages of love, hope, and peace have inspired us all.”
The two will have a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office before the pope meets American bishops at a highly anticipated address.
Washington was the first stop on the pope’s six-day, three-city visit to the United States.
The pope took his time getting to the White House, stopping to greet schoolchildren who had gathered outside the Vatican’s nunciature. The children took selfies with the pope, hugged him and waved Holy See flags.
Thousands more were gathering for a morning parade on streets near the White House.
Francis has been fending off conservative criticism of his economic views. He told reporters on his flight from Cuba that some people may have an inaccurate impression that he is “a little bit more left-leaning”.
“I am certain that I have never said anything beyond what is in the social doctrine of the church,” he said.
As for conservatives who question whether he is truly Catholic, he added: “If I have to recite the Creed, I’m ready.”
Mr Obama is hoping to find common ground with the pope on efforts to combat climate change and fight income inequality. But the two differ on other issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
The 78-year-old pontiff is due to meet with America’s 450-strong bishops’ conference at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle.
Many US bishops have struggled to come to terms with Francis’ new social justice-minded direction of the church. Nearly all were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They prioritised drawing clearer boundaries for Catholic behaviour and belief in the face of legalised abortion and advances in gay rights.
The American church spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year through its social service agencies, and for years has sought an overhaul of the immigration system to reunite families, shelter refugees and give the poor the chance at a better life.
But the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has put its resources behind high-profile fights over abortion, contraception and gay marriage.