It’s hard to say what this augurs for the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, but ridership on the Metro (DC’s subway) was surprisingly sane this morning despite fears that it would be overwhelmed by crowds wanting to see Francis’s motorcade on Constitution Avenue. There was even a petition going around yesterday asking him to bless the Metro, though it doesn’t seem he did.
One of the very nice moments of his White House visit was that he stopped before arriving to greet some students from what looked to be a Catholic boys school, and instead of just waving at them came over and shook hands and chatted. One boy kissed him on the cheek. So for all the security surrounding Papa (and supposedly going to paralyze Philadelphia), Francis plays by his own rules. It’s actually a little unnerving to see that the popemobile is glassed only on its front and top, but open on the sides.
What was striking about Francis’ drive to the White House was just how “Franciscan” it was. He was preceded and followed by a dozen big, black, dark-tined SUVs that have the look of armored personnel carriers, and he’s tootling along in a little Fiat with untinted windows. License plate SCV1, by the way. Wave if you see it go by.
I’ve already tweeted a ton about Obamas and Francis’ remarks on the White House Lawn, but I will mention again that this was the first time I’ve heard him speak in English since we journalists got on the plane with him Saturday morning. He told us in Spanish yesterday that “English is not my forte,” or “strength,” and we’ve already been told that only four of his 18 public addresses will be in English. One will be his address to Congress tomorrow, which I will be attending. I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I thought his accent speaking English this morning sounded more Italian than Spanish. As most folks know, he is ethnically Italian (Bergoglio), though grew up in Argentina.
As noted in an early tweet today, I ran this morning into Kevin Appleby, who is the advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on matters of migration and immigration. He said he thinks the pope’s address about immigration that he will deliver on Independence Mall in Philadelphia Saturday is the “sleeper” address of this trip – meaning that it will have a lot more to say than most in the media seem to have anticipated. He also said he thinks expectations for Francis’ address to Congress maybe be a bit high, since it will only last 20 minutes “and he has to cover a lot of ground.” So we’ll see. I didn’t ask if he knows what Francis will say to Congress, although Francis told us yesterday on the flight from Cuba that the Cuban embargo will not be part of that.
It’s a beautiful day here; 69 degrees and just light cumulus clouds. Pope’s route will take him along the Ellipse and National Mall, and the crowds look to be about 10 deep in places.