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Pope Francis Arrives In U.S. After Visit To Cuba


Pope Francis arrived today for his first-ever trip to the United States. President Obama and the first last led an entourage that greeted the pontiff after his plane touched down at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington. Washington is the first stop of a U.S. tour that also includes New York City and Philadelphia. The pope spent the last three days in Cuba, and NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is among the journalists who are traveling with Pope Francis, and she joins us now. And Sylvia, what was the scene at Joint Base Andrews when the pope arrived?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, it was very festive. There was a large group of people - lots of young people singing and cheering and yelling, Francesco, Francesco. But security was very tight, and reporters were herded behind a wire fence pretty far from the scene, so I really couldn't see that much. I could see this one figure in white surrounded by a lot of suits. But what was rather interesting - and I think it's a typical touch of this pope who has made humility and poverty one of his cornerstones. He left in a small Fiat car with Vatican plates surrounded by much larger American cars in the motorcade.

MCEVERS: All right. The pope is coming from Cuba, where he, we know, played a key role in the diplomatic fall between that country and the U.S. Here in the U.S., he'll meet with President Obama. He'll celebrate mass. He'll canonize the first Hispanic saint in the United States, and he will eat with the poor. He's also been - he will also be addressing a join meeting of Congress, and he spoke with journalists travelling with him on the plane about that. What did he say?

POGGIOLI: Well, actually, the questions focused on Cuba. He was asked why he didn't see dissidents while he was there. He said he had hoped to give what he called a passing greeting to dissidents who had been contacted by the Vatican embassy, but at the mass, the pope said no one identified themselves as opponents of the regime.

He was also asked why he is so tough on free-market capitalism but much - he was much softer on communism in Cuba. He said that's not so. He said the visit to Cuba was a pastoral visit with the Catholic community. And for this reason, his speeches were homilies. He said that everything he has said about climate change and what he calls salvage capitalism reflects, no more, no less, the Church's long-standing social doctrine. He said perhaps some of his statements give the impression it'll be a little lefty - he used that word - but that would be a wrong interpretation. And laughing, he said, if it's necessary that I recite the credo of the Catholic Church, I'm willing to do it.

MCEVERS: And Sylvia, you asked the pope about his meeting with former Cuban president Fidel Castro and how the Catholic Church, you know, suffered under his rule. What did he say?

POGGIOLI: The pope said the meeting was not formal. He said Fidel's family was there and so was the pope's driver. Francis said they spoke a lot about the pope's encyclical on climate change because Fidel is very worried about the environment. We didn't talk about the past, the pope said, with the exception of Fidel's Jesuit education and how the Jesuits made him study very hard.

MCEVERS: (Laughter). Did the pope talk about what message he wants to get across here in the U.S. while he's visiting?

POGGIOLI: No, he did not. The press conference was limited to Cuba. But he - when he was asked about the U.S. embargo, whether he would raise it in his speech to Congress, he said he would not specifically speak about the embargo but would speak generally about international relations.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli who is traveling with Pope Francis. Sylvia, thanks so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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