Pope Francis waves alongside President Barack Obama upon arrival at...

Pope Francis waves alongside President Barack Obama upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Papal fans sang and screamed their love Tuesday as the rock star of the Catholic Church -- Pope Francis -- stepped on U.S. soil, shook the hand of President Barack Obama in a long line of dignitaries and was whisked away to his temporary residence in the nation's capital.

"Father Francis, bless your children," many shouted in Spanish at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where the pope touched down at 3:49 p.m.

The first glimpse of Pope Francis in the United States was brief -- not even 15 minutes in the public eye.

"This was a great day," Dorothy Newman, 74, of Maryland, said after witnessing history at the base. "I just hope the pope continues to pray for us, and especially for all our leaders . . . He's trying to bring people together in love."

The pope arrived for a historic U.S. visit that spans five days. It began in the capital, and will be followed by visits to New York City on Thursday and to Philadelphia on Saturday.

There has been much speculation about what the outspoken leader will say on this trip and how the man who has washed prisoners' feet will surprise his flock.

In a Vatican news conference Tuesday evening, spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope will touch on immigration and the environment in his address to the United Nations on Friday.

These are "obvious" subjects, Lombardi said, along with climate change and the Syrian refugee crisis.

But there were no hints of any unexpected topics from the sometimes blunt pontiff, who in a June manifesto called for a revolution to change a "perverse" economic system that exploits the poor and turns the Earth into an "immense pile of filth."

The pope flew in from Cuba, where he had exchanged books with Fidel Castro and warned people against "self service," which some viewed as a gentle rap against the regime.

Aboard the plane known as "Shepherd One," the pope had held a news conference in which he said he had turned down a number of requests for private audiences.

"I like to meet with all people" if time permits, he said. "I consider all people are children of God and the law."

As the plane landed, passengers inside could hear the crowd chanting "Ole" for the Argentine pope.

He stepped off an Alitalia plane that had U.S. and Vatican flags flying outside the cockpit windows and strolled onto a red carpet, where he shook hands with President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama their two daughters.

The pope went down a long reception line that included Vice President Joe Biden and his family, several archbishops who bowed their heads to him and the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Kenneth Hackett.

School children in uniform handed him a flower bouquet and he waved to screaming crowds. The light breeze on the tarmac forced him to take off his zucchetto, his skullcap.

The pope and the Obamas, followed by an entourage of security agents and greeters, walked into a building on the base for a private meeting.

Less than 10 minutes later, as the pope walked toward the motorcade, the crowd chanted in Spanish, "Papa Francisco, bendice a tus hijos," or "Father Francis, bless your children."

He then got into a black Fiat with a license plate SCV 1 for Vatican City. As the Fiat rolled off the tarmac, the pope put his hand out the window and waved past the crowds behind metal barricades.

The pope was headed toward the Vatican Diplomatic Mission on Massachusetts Avenue, where he'd be staying and where groups of children waved small Vatican flags, gold and white with the keys of St. Peter and the papal tiara.

About 300 people waited at the Washington residence, where he's to stay till Thursday.

Young people on guitars and drums sang. One song, with its slow, steady cadence, was called "Dayeno," said Eddie Velasquez, a Catholic from Rockville, Maryland, which he translated to mean "Day of Rest."

Velasquez said he came to this informal greeting of the pope to show "how thankful we are for our leaders of the church, especially the Holy Father."

Velasquez, a father of six, said he and members of the Neocatechumenal Way, a charismatic of the Catholic Church, planned to be in Philadelphia later in the week for the World Meeting of Families, which started Tuesday. The Vatican-sponsored event is what prompted the pope's visit to the United States.

It was the young who took the lead. They tapped a steady beat on tambourine and drums. One young man led the group in song. Women danced to the music, with a few men joining them. A young man added the melodious notes of a wooden recorder to the melody. Smiles lighted everyone's faces as they danced and clapped to the slow tune, voices rising louder as the tune continued.

The pope is to lead a Wednesday midday prayer at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and an afternoon Mass for the canonization of evangelizer Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. His address before Congress is planned for Thursday morning.

The first of several street closings took place in the morning outside the Apostolic Nunciature, the papal residence in Washington.

At the Capitol, where the pope will be the first Catholic pontiff to address a session of Congress on Thursday, preparations were under way, with crews sprucing up the chamber on Monday afternoon.

Capitol Police posted throughout, and the West Lawn cordoned off for tourists milling around the grounds. More street closures are planned around the building, starting after midnight Wednesday.

Along Connecticut Avenue NW, several miles from the Capitol and the White House, nearly every streetlight pole bore the grinning face of Francis, an invitation to a Thursday rally at the National Mall in support of his call for "moral action on climate."

One restaurant's sidewalk menu sign simply said "The POPE is coming," and a nearby storefront displayed merchandise including T-shirts with bright colors and messages such as "I [Heart] Pope Francis."

The capital trip precedes the pope's arrival Thursday afternoon in New York City.

His visit will be brief -- he departs Saturday morning for Philadelphia -- but his stops will tap into the public psyche. They include an address before the UN General Assembly, a multireligious service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a visit to an East Harlem school, a procession through Central Park, and Mass at Madison Square Garden.

-- With Olivia Winslow

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