It is his first papal visit to the U.S. since being elected in 2005. He was greeted off the plane by President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter, Jenna. The pope waved as he came off the plane and shook hands with the president and his family. Students from a Catholic school squealed at the sight of the pope.
On the flight to the United States from Rome, Benedict addressed the most painful issue for the Roman Catholic Church in America -- clergy sex abuse. The U.S. church has paid out $2 billion in abuse costs since 1950.
The pope said he is "deeply ashamed" of the problem and vowed to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.
Washington is a city accustomed to foreign dignitaries coming and going, but when the pope arrives, the red carpet rolls out in true form. The president himself will travel to Andrews Air Force Base to greet the pope. That's not an honor typically given to visiting world leaders.
This trip is billed as a journey of hope. American Catholics - and many non-Catholics - are waiting to hear what this pope has to say.
What will be immediately obvious to Americans is that Pope Benedict is not John Paul II. John Paul sparked a charismatic atmosphere even in his later years, while Benedict can be a complicated speaker, requiring careful listening to get his meaning.
"He has a good rapport with young people, not the same kind of enthusiasm you had with John Paul II, who was very extroverted and took energy from young people. This pope loves them and they grasp that, but he's not an enthusiast in the same way," said Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. "This is Peter's successor, that's what's important for Catholics. He's not the successor of John Paul II, although numerically he follows him. They're all successors of Peter, so if you want to touch Peter, that's whom you touch."
And this successor of Peter, as Catholics say, will attempt to touch American hearts and American Catholics who may not agree with or live according to church teachings. There are those still stung by the failings of some Catholic priests and leaders.
"The sexual abuse scandal obviously has to be addressed, the tensions surrounding our faith in a somewhat more secularized environment or culture. All those are topics he'll touch on, but fundamentally he'll tell us who Jesus is and that He's risen from the dead, and he'll try to strengthen the basics of our faith," said George.
In his three years as pope, Benedict XVI has walked in the minefield of friction between the faiths - Jews and Muslims, in particular.
His use of a quote in a lecture in 2006 led to protests by some Muslims who found the reference insulting, even if it was taken out of context.
"He'll raise that theme, I suppose he'll do that very circumspectly, as you say, but the dialogues are secure, nobody's going to stop talking to someone. He's a very kind man and sensitive, but he's also a man who says you can't have a true dialogue unless people are willing to say this is what we believe, now let's talk about it," said George.
The pope's words will be carefully weighed, both by those who appreciate his message and by those who have been critical of his stands. When you're the pope, there may be an expectation that some topics require sensitivity. But there's also an expectation that the pope says what he believes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.