(NEWSER) – Pope Francis sets foot on US soil at 4pm today (full schedule here), and officials in DC, New York, and Philly are scrambling to ensure a smooth, safe stay. Here are five of the more unusual details of his visit:

  1. The visits has spurred one of the largest security operations in US history: The pope's five-day visit has received the rare designation of "National Special Security Event," the Washington Post reports, and the Secret Service-led security operation also involves the FBI, Coast Guard, Pentagon, and other agencies. Adding to the challenge: the pontiff's "proclivity to wade into public crowds," and the doubling-up of events. The 70th UN General Assembly and Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit are also on the docket.
  2. President Obama will meet him at the airport: When he arrives at Joint Base Andrews just outside DC, Obama will be there to greet him. This is actually a big deal. "It is a gesture the president has extended to virtually no other foreign visitor," observes the New York Times.
  3. No congressional handshakes: The pope's attendance at Thursday's joint session of Congress is a "sold-out" event, and those members who will be attending have received a "Please Behave Yourself" notice co-signed by John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, the Post reports. "Out of respect for the Pope's schedule and the expectation of a timely address, we respectfully request that you assist us by refraining from handshakes and conversations along and down the center aisle," the memo reads.

Read the full story on