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Sun Shines On Pope's Speech, As Obama Lays Out A Warm Welcome


A beautiful fall day here in Washington, D.C., provided the setting this morning for President Obama to welcome Pope Francis to the White House for the first time. NPR's Scott Horsley was out on the lawn to witness the event, along with thousands of others. And he joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Lucky you.


MONTAGNE: Before we get to what the president and the Pope said - and they did both speak - set the scene for us.

HORSLEY: Well, it really was divine weather this morning, a perfect fall day here in Washington, D.C. And that was good news for the more than 10,000 people who completely filled the South Lawn here. The president joked that the backyard is not usually this crowded. But they greeted the pontiff with thunderous applause when he arrived and whenever he or the president made a point in their opening remarks.

MONTAGNE: Now, the pope is a Spanish-speaker, but he spoke this morning in English. The president also made brief remarks. What stood out for you?

HORSLEY: Well, the president pointed to the palpable sense of excitement here in Washington and in America for this first papal visit. And he said that's a sign not only of Pope Francis' role as the leader of this huge institution, but also his personal example.


BARACK OBAMA: And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of our complacency.

HORSLEY: And that shake affects people across the political spectrum in this country. On many issues of importance to the pope, he's on the same page as President Obama. He talked today, for example, about climate change, and he also spoke about immigration.


POPE FRANCIS: As the son of an immigrant family, I'm happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.


HORSLEY: Now, that could give some heartburn to some of the Republicans. The pope will be addressing in Congress tomorrow, who have, of course, halted efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration laws. But the pope also talked about protecting religious liberty, and that's an area where the Catholic Church in this country has been at odds with the Obama administration on issues such as the birth control mandate in the president's signature health care law.

MONTAGNE: And by the way, when the Pope spoke of being the son of an immigrant, his parents immigrated to Argentina from Italy. So the pope and the president are now having a private meeting where they'll talk about some of those issues.

HORSLEY: Presumably they will talk about issues like immigration, like climate change, and possibly about religious liberty as well, although the White House has said - well, they've said, frankly, they don't know what the pontiff will want to talk about. This is a Pope who has sort of delighted in surprising people, and they didn't presume to guess what Pope Francis would want to say during this meeting. They said they looked forward to listening to it. But they also say that this is not a typical meeting that the president might have with another world leader. It operates, the White House has said, on kind of a higher plane, a different plane. But they did point to the president's own background, his work as a community organizer, being tied with Catholic social justice. And so they expected a simpatico meeting of two leaders with a lot of shared values.

MONTAGNE: OK, speaking from the White House, NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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