Spectators claim their spots along the papal parade route, with the Washington Monument as a backdrop.
Crowds gather in the early morning hours near the eastern entrance of the Ellipse for the papal parade.
Seven-year-olds Lucas Jefferson (center) and Rafael Xeleya draw on a poster for Pope Francis while waiting for the parade to start.
A cutout of Pope Francis attracted people who wanted their picture taken with the pontiff.
Security keeps spectators off the parade route on Constitution Avenue before the papal parade begins.
Spectators anticipate Pope Francis' arrival on Constitution Avenue during the papal parade.
Patricia Briceno raises the Peruvian and Vatican flags on Constitution Avenue. "Peru is with him, and we love him," said Briceno, who is Peruvian.
1 of 7
Eager people from all around the world packed the National Mall in Washington on Wednesday in hopes of seeing Pope Francis. The papal parade, the only nonticketed event on the docket for the pope's visit to the nation's capital, drew tens of thousands of people.
Many pope-watchers expected pandemonium along the 20-minute-long route, but instead they were greeted by a mellow, loving crowd that used words such as "humbling" and "compassionate" to describe the pontiff. Pope Francis received thunderous applause as he stopped the procession to kiss babies and even bless a young girl who managed to get outside the police barricade. He traveled in a modified Jeep Popemobile, open on both sides to allow unobstructed views.
Why brave the throngs of people and the early morning alarm to see the pope? We asked some of the spectators why they came and what makes the pope special to them.
Natti Dascutan, 70, Filipino-American living in the District of Columbia
Natti Dascutan took the Metro for the first time ever on Wednesday. Why? She simply had to see Pope Francis.
"I got scared when I went down from the escalator. Oh my God, I almost threw up because it was so tall! And then, I didn't even know how to punch the fare card. I had to ask the guard if he would teach me!"
Why would she put herself through all of that?
"He is our guidance! He is the Holy Father, for everybody. We are God's children. That is why I wanted to come."
Dascutan has seen popes before: John Paul II (three times), Benedict XVI and now Francis.
She says his humility makes him unlike the others.
Dascutan strategically staked out a bench to get the best possible picture of the pope when he passed by.
Scott Lloyd, 36, Arroyo, W.Va.
Wrangling five kids is no easy feat, especially amid crowds of more than 10,000. But Lloyd braved it anyway.
"It's just wonderful," Lloyd says. "It brings a tear to the eye, hearing what the pope has to say and seeing the two figures [Pope Francis and President Obama] together."
As a father, Lloyd also wants his kids — Helena, 8; Scott, 6; Mark, 5; Francesca, 3, and 28-month old Louisa — to be part of such a historic and spiritual event. They're a little distracted, wrestling each other and begging for his attention, but he thinks it will be worth it.
"As you can see, they're very in tune with all the history," he says, laughing.
"A few of us have tickets to Mass later," Lloyd adds. "Say a prayer for me!"
Maria Nunez, 62, Texan living in the District of Columbia
There were a lot of signs on the National Mall Wednesday, but Maria Nunez put extra work into her outfit for the papal parade.
"I stayed up until midnight working on this poster on my back," Nunez said. "I decided at the last minute to make it!"
Like many, she deeply respects Pope Francis and was thankful just to get a glimpse of him.
"He seems like a really down-to-earth man," she says. "He has a lot of very good ideas for mankind. He's so concerned with the homeless and the poor. That means a lot to me."
Classmates, friends and even two sisters, these girls were all nervously excited to catch a glimpse of the pope.
"I came because I wanted to feel more proud," says Monica Reynosa. "It's hard to explain, but it's really emotional, seeing the leader of the Catholic Church. I'm going to feel goose bumps when I see him. A flood of emotions. I'd almost describe him as a friend."
Mary Miller, 53, Ashburn, Va.
"I'm not one to really like crowds, but I would do it for Pope Francis," says Mary Miller, who visits people in nursing homes as a member of The Legion of Mary. "But we made it! Thank God. It's a beautiful day. ...
"I brought my crucifix in hopes that Pope Francis would bless it," she says. "I hope he sees it, because I'm kind of far back!"
Emmanuel Diyoka Mulowayi, 29, St. Leo, Fla., and Joshua Bartholomew, 21, New Orleans
"I feel like we live in a world where everybody is so focused on being successful and having a big car and this and this and that," says Emmanuel Diyoka Mulowayi, who attends St. Leo University in Florida. "They forget about people around us. I feel like we have a lack of humanity.
"Having this opportunity to have Pope Francis come, with those good values, to remind us of those values that everybody counts, no matter where you're from, or your economic class, I feel like this is just amazing. We need to hear things like that more often because sometimes we forget."
Joshua Bartholomew, another student at St. Leo University, agrees.
"As a Catholic, he's really shown a model of what it means to put others first. He's a humble guy, a character trait I wish to have," Bartholomew says. "It was great to see how everybody, no matter what religion you come from, came together just to see the pope."
Originally from Belgium but currently getting his master's in the U.S., Mulowayi is excited to tell his friends and family back home about seeing the pope.
"I had a chance to record him for maybe 10 seconds; it was amazing! All my family back in home in Belgium were so happy to know I'm here. I'm going to send it to my mom!"
Veronica Wells Leone, 29, Russian living in the District of Columbia
The epitome of dedication, Veronica Wells Leone took the first train Wednesday at 5 a.m. to secure a spot for the parade.
"I came to get a little more spiritual connection, with my religion and with myself," Leone says. "And to see love, to see Americans and so many other cultures come together as one and celebrate a very important man."
Leone characterizes Pope Francis as "bold."
"He doesn't speak just because he has to, just because he's a pope," she says, "he speaks from his heart. He shows that he is not just a holy man, but he is one of us. He is a human. He lives and breathes."
Vesta Partovi contributed to this report.
Editor's note on Dec. 2, 2015: A photo and the comments of one person have been removed from this page because of concerns about whether he fully understood where they would be reported.