Pope Francis and President Obama have both dedicated their lives to helping the less fortunate, and that commonality will be central to their meeting Wednesday during the pope's first visit to the United States, a White House spokesman said hours before Obama left to greet the pontiff as he landed at Andrews Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon.
"[B]oth men have talked, quite publicly, about their commitment to social justice," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in previewing their Oval Office meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning. "And both men have dedicated their, not just their careers, but their lives, to that effort."
"Certainly the kind of commitment that we've seen from Pope Francis is unique and singular," Earnest allowed "but I think the values that both men live out have some common ground."
Earnest talked about how Obama turned down high-paying jobs upon graduating law school to instead work in Chicago's poor South Side, and how Francis is known for advocating on behalf of impoverished communities in his home country of Argentina before ascending through the Roman Catholic Church's ranks.
"And you know, the president actually worked quite closely with other Catholics in that community, and the president has talked about that quite a bit … this has been a value that has animated the president's career choices since he was a young man."
Earnest said Francis's story is similar.
"[P]rior to rising through the leadership ranks of the Catholic Church … Pope Francis earned a reputation in Latin America [as being someone] willing to roll up his sleeves" to help the less fortunate, "particularly those who were economically destitute," Earnest said.
Earnest said many in the administration are looking forward to greeting Francis because they feel they are working toward the same goals.
They're "animated by the same kinds of values that animate the pope," Earnest said about White House staffers. "And I think that's why the opportunity to have Pope Francis, somebody who shares those values, here in this building tomorrow, makes for a really special day."
A crowd of 15,000 is expected to welcome Francis at a ceremony on the White House lawn Wednesday morning.
According to press reports, several hundred people were on hand at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base to watch "Shepherd One" land and cheer the pope as he deplaned.
"We love Francis, yes we do," people reportedly chanted. "We love Francis, how about you?"
In addition to Obama, First Lady Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden his wife Jill, and their extended families, nearly 20 other dignitaries were on hand at Andrews, including all of the Washington and Baltimore areas' Catholic bishops.
"Ho, ho, hey, hey, welcome to the USA," the larger crowd chanted, welcoming Francis on his first trip ever to the United States.