Obama to give Pope a rare personal welcome

A US flag flies in front of an unfinished mural of Pope Francis in New York.
A US flag flies in front of an unfinished mural of Pope Francis in New York.EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Barack and Michelle Obama will travel to Joint Base Andrews to greet Pope Francis upon his arrival in the United States on Sept 22, a rare show of US presidential deference.

"It is not necessarily routine for the President to greet the foreign leader at Andrews," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said as he announced the move.

Obama rarely even travels to the doors of the West Wing to great foreign dignitaries, so the short helicopter hop to rural Maryland is deeply symbolic, although not unprecedented.

The Obamas will follow in the footsteps of George W. Bush, who greeted Pope Benedict at Andrews in 2008.

The Pope will hold talks at the White House as part of a US tour that will also take in New York and Philadelphia.

Francis is popular in America and expected to draw huge crowds in the three cities he will visit.