Pope Francis smiles and waves at the tens of thousands of people who lined the streets of Washington Sept. 23 to catch a glimpse of him after he left a meeting with President Obama at the White House. In the Popemobile with the Holy Father at far left Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington who is hosting the pope in the first city of his first visit to the United States. (CS PHOTO BY EDDIE ARROSSI)
Pope Francis smiles and waves at the tens of thousands of people who lined the streets of Washington Sept. 23 to catch a glimpse of him after he left a meeting with President Obama at the White House. In the Popemobile with the Holy Father at far left Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington who is hosting the pope in the first city of his first visit to the United States. (CS PHOTO BY EDDIE ARROSSI)

After visiting the White House and receiving an official welcome by President Barack Obama, Pope Francis took to the streets of Washington Sept. 23, to receive the welcome of tens of thousands of Catholics and others.

With cheers and singing and flag waving and shouts of “Viva el Papa!,” the Holy Father was greeted by the faithful as he rode in Popemobile along the Ellipse. The parade was held after the pontiff’s White House meeting with the president and before his prayer service with the nation’s bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

People came from throughout the archdiocese and as far away as Tennessee, Illinois, California, Argentina, Spain and Columbia to line the streets and catch a glimpse of the Holy Father. At some spots along the parade route, crowds stretched more than 20-people deep. People began claiming prime viewing spots at 4 a.m.

“This is a dream. I cannot believe I saw the pope,” said Laura Morgan from Scaggsville. “I started to cry when I saw him because I was so overcome with emotion. I still am emotional. I love Pope Francis.”

The roar of the crowd rolled down the street, reaching a crescendo as the pope approached and passed by. Three times during the parade, a young child was brought from the crowd to the pope, who offered a kiss and a blessing.

Edwin Guzmán, a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring, said he came to glimpse the pope “because this is an occasion that you just can’t miss.”

“I screamed to him when he passed by. I wanted his blessing,” Guzmán said. “I love him because he tells us the truth.”

Often during the ride, Pope Francis would reach out of the open-sided Popemobile, offering a blessing, a smile or a wave. Joining the Holy Father in the vehicle was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.

Michelle Diaz, who came with a Spanish-speaking young adult group from Columbia, said she screamed to the Holy Father, “Thank you for being here for us. Thank you for inspiring us.”

Prior to the papal parade, the faithful walked for blocks to security checkpoints as roads near the parade route were closed. They came on foot and in wheelchairs, in strollers and on their parents’ shoulders. Some were assisted by canes and walkers.

“I’m tired, I’m hungry, but I am so happy to be here and to see the pope,” said Adriana Arellano from the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. “I screamed like crazy. I smiled so much that my face hurts.

Rafa Alonzo said he traveled from Mexico just to get a glimpse of the pope here in Washington. “I am so excited to get as near to him as I did,” he said. “I am an environmental engineer, and I love what he says about the environment. I already had a deep faith, but now I think my faith is even deeper.”

The pope’s popularity extends beyond Catholics, as many non-Catholics jockeyed for position along the parade route. Mary Moll, a Baptist, said she braved the crowds because “all I needed to do was see him. If anyone has God in his heart, it doesn’t matter to me if he doesn’t have the same religion as me. The pope has God in his heart, and he gives me the courage to keep moving on.”

One street vendor selling T-shirts with the pope’s image said, “business is good – I’ve even sold a couple of shirts to a Lutheran.” Vendors hawking everything from papal shirts to rosaries, buttons, flags, key chains and other souvenirs dotted almost every corner on the streets outside the security perimeter.

Some who attended the papal parade said taking part in Pope Francis’s only non-ticketed public event in Washington moved them greatly. 

“I’m beyond words. I do not now how to express what I am feeling right now,” Washingtonian Darryl Lucan said after the pope passed by. “I never thought I would get this close to the pope. I am happy. I am content. I can say I have been with the pope.”

For Felicia Baxter of Chaptico, seeing Pope Francis “has to be the most spiritual moment of my life.”

“It is enough for me to have seen the Vicar of Christ,” she said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime, something you will never forget moment.”