(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) Thousands of Capitol Hill residents and visitors descended on the U.S. Capitol grounds this morning to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.
Monks, nuns, families and curious onlookers in the neighborhood mingled with activists, Vatican City flag vendors and police with few, if any, major problems.
Most of crowd was on and around the Capitol’s West Lawn, where they needed tickets to watch a live broadcast of the pontiff’s address to Congress and see Francis outside of the Fiat he has used in D.C. But about two dozen people without tickets lined up along barricades near Constitution and Delaware avenues NE to see the pope drive by.
Adrienne Umansky and Amy Shilo, retirees who live on Capitol Hill, arrived outside the Russell Senate Office Building just before Francis entered the Capitol complex and saw him wave from his motorcade.
Although they’re Jewish, Umansky and Shilo said they’re Francis supporters.
“I think this is a wonderful way to usher in the new year,” Shilo said, referring to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebrated last week.
On the West Lawn, people cheered as Francis spoke to Congress and appeared on the House speaker’s balcony outside.
“I’m so grateful for your presence here,” he said in Spanish to the crowd, NBC Washington reported. “The most important ones here are children.”
He added: “I ask you please to send good wishes my way.”
Between Union Station and the Capitol, a handful of vendors sold Francis buttons, scarves, posters and Vatican City flags.
Tony, who declined to give his last name, was hawking buttons and scarves for $5 a piece.
“For a side job, it helps,” he said.
Not far away from him, an environmental activist sang, “Cook organic, not the planet,” members of the Jews for Jesus organization held a banner for their group and passersby posed for pictures with a large “Flat Francis” cardboard cutout.
Not everyone visiting Capitol Hill was here for the pope, however.
Gary Macaulay, a retiree from Traverse City, Mich., was in D.C. this week with his wife to see the Smithsonian museums and other area sights, not Francis.
“If we had known the pope was here, we probably wouldn’t have come today,” he said.
Photo of pope’s Fiat courtesy of Joshua Paz; photo of crowds watching Francis via Twitter/DC Archdiocese