Pope Francis smiles.

Image: Giulio Napolitano | Shutterstock

The nation welcomed Pope Francis today for the very first time. He arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where he was greeted by President and Michelle Obama and Vice President and Jill Biden. Catholic dignitaries and school children were also there to greet the Pope.

Pope Francis will be in the United States for six days, and his trip will take him from New York to Philadelphia. He will give several Masses to large crowds, the first canonization on the country’s soil, and an official address to Congress.

Francis is only the third pope to visit Washington, D.C., and his presence warrants road closures, added police and secret service protection, and rerouting of traffic and transit all through the area. He just concluded a four-day visit to Cuba, and was no doubt exhausted by the time he stepped off the plane to greet the president.

The centerpiece of his stay, according to the New York Times, will be the pope’s address to a meeting of Congress on Thursday. Demand for scarce tickets has been so high that congressional officials imposed unusual limits on many who normally have rights to the House floor, apparently.

Francis is quickly becoming one of the most popular popes of all time, and not just among Catholics. A Pew Research Center survey suggests that the pope has an approval rating of 90% among Catholics and 70% of all Americans, including those without a religious affiliation. The Pope has earned himself a reputation for being quite unlike his predecessors in his fairly liberal interpretations of the Catholic faith and to whom it extends.

“God gives you methods to be responsible,” Francis said when questioned about birth control and abortion. While that doesn’t mean he endorses all contraceptives, he does promote responsible parenthood—not to behave “like rabbits,” necessarily.

The Pope also does not denounce homosexuality, as popes before him have done. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said.