WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Pope Francis arrived in the United States Tuesday for the first official visit of his papacy -- incidentally, pretty close to the 50th anniversary of the first papal visit anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
Francis touched down at Andrews Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon, where crowds of anxious onlookers awaited the highly publicized visit from the pontiff.
Security was extremely tight for Francis' visit, including police and military personnel. After exchanging greetings, the pope and Obama returned to Washington in separate vehicles. Normally, Obama would return to the White House by helicopter but the Marine One landing area has been transformed into a reception center for Francis' scheduled visit Wednesday.
The pope arrived after spending four days in Cuba, and his U.S. plans will take him from Washington to New York City to Philadelphia, before he returns to Rome on Sunday.
Tuesday's visit marked just the third time in history the Vatican leader traveled to the nation's capital. The last occurred when Pope Benedict visited in 2008. The first-ever papal visit to Washington -- or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere -- occurred on Oct. 4, 1965 when Pope Paul VI arrived in New York City to an official reception by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Thursday, Francis will become the first pope to ever address a joint session of Congress.
Prior to Tuesday's arrival, the 78-year-old pontiff had never before set foot on American soil.
After Wednesday's official reception at the White House, Francis will travel via motorcade around the Washington Mall to St. Matthew's Cathedral, where he will address hundreds of American Catholic bishops and canonize Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Thursday, Francis will address Congress and visit St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington before departing for New York City.