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Pope Francis to Make Historic Trip to US

Pope Francis arrives for an audience to Parish groups promoting evangelization, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Pope Francis to Make Historic Trip to U.S.
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His visit in September will be another first for the popular pope.

Even though Francis is the “first American pope,” born and raised in South America, he has not yet been to this America — the United States of America.

Large numbers of people are expected to come see the pope in the three cities he will visit: Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia. Crowds in Washington are expected to be so large that federal government workers have been encouraged to work from home when Francis is here. In total, the pope’s trip will last from September 22-27.

Masses, meetings and speeches

Pope Francis is known to speak publicly about many controversial issues. But in an interview with VOA, the Archbishop of Washington says the pope probably will not discuss politics while he is here. Cardinal Donald Wuerl calls the trip a “pastoral visit.”

“He is coming as a spiritual leader, as a shepherd of souls. And so I think that whatever we hear from him has to be heard and seen through that lens – that he has come not to talk politics, not to talk public policy, but to talk about the values that come out of the Gospel message.”

Thousands of people are expected on the South Lawn of the White House for the pope’s arrival on September 23. They will help President Barack Obama greet Francis.

The White House invited a cross-section of people representing American religious life to attend. They include leaders of Christian evangelical groups, a gay Catholic blogger, and a Roman Catholic nun who leads bus tours for social justice.

Francis and Mr. Obama will talk privately after the South Lawn reception. A White House spokesperson says the president hopes to discuss the environment, immigrants and refugees, and religious freedom.

Pope Francis has addressed these topics before. Last May, Francis’ encyclical on climate change called for wealthy nations to overcome global warming. And he has drawn attention to the plight of migrants.

As with other trips he has taken, the Pope will move between the powerful and the poor. After his speech to Congress – the first by any pontiff – the pope will visit a homeless shelter.

Also while in Washington, he will say an outdoor Mass in Spanish. And he will canonize the 18th-century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, who founded a series of missions in California.

Poor Clares nuns Sister Maria Eden, left, and Sister Thereza share a laugh as they make altar bread also known as communion wafers, Sept. 8, 2015, at the Monastery of Saint Clare in Langhorne, Pa.
Poor Clares nuns Sister Maria Eden, left, and Sister Thereza share a laugh as they make altar bread also known as communion wafers, Sept. 8, 2015, at the Monastery of Saint Clare in Langhorne, Pa.

In Philadelphia Pope Francis will speak at Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was approved. Then he will visit a prison.

And in New York City, Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly and visit the September 11 memorial.

Cardinal Wuerl says the pope will talk about building a good and just society.

“I would expect that we are going to hear from him a call to work together to address the needs of our brothers and sisters especially the, less fortunate.”

Rock star status

Everywhere the pope goes, people are expected to line the roads, hoping to see him. Social media platforms are getting ready for a large increase in activity. Wireless carriers are bringing in portable cell towers.

In Philadelphia, antennas are being added to streetlights. A closing Mass there is expected to draw more than 1 million people.

Pope Francis’ “rock star” image is confirmed by Twitter. His accounts are in nine languages, including Arabic, and now he has 22.7 million followers. That is more than singers Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj have.

Change agent

Many of his followers are talking about the pope’s recent statements. He says women can be forgiven if they have an abortion. He also wants to speed the annulment process, so people who want to end a marriage might be able to do so and remarry in the church.

Pope Francis is cheered by faithful as he arrives in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Aug. 5, 2015.
Pope Francis is cheered by faithful as he arrives in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Aug. 5, 2015.

Austen Iverreigh wrote a biography of Francis called “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.” He calls Francis a change agent. But, the author says the pope is not trying to change fundamental church teachings.

“What I keep saying is look, he’s a faithful son of the church, he is not about changing church doctrine or teachings, he’s a very strong defender of core Catholic teachings.”

Mr. Iverreigh says the pope wants to “put the loving mercy of God front and center.”

In the United States, attendance in Catholic churches has been declining. The Pew Research Center estimates that four out of 10 American adults who were born Catholic no longer identify themselves as Catholic.

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church is also still suffering from the wounds of a sex scandal. At least 300 members of the Catholic clergy have been convicted of sexual assault, according to Bishop Accountability, a private group that watches the scandal. Settlement payments to victims and other costs have totaled around $3 billion. The Church has been accused of trying to protect priests who committed these crimes.

Mr. Ivereigh says Pope Francis knows what “the anxieties and the pastoral needs” of the U.S. are. And, he says, he thinks the pope will address those needs when he visits at the end of this month.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story. Jerome Socolovsky contributed to this report. Kelly J. Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

homilies –n. (plural) sermons

pastoral – adj. relating to spiritual care or guidance

cross-section –n. small group of examples of people in a larger group

encyclical –n. an official letter from the pope to bishops

plight –n. a very bad or difficult situation

pontiff –n. pope

canonize –v. to officially declare someone a saint

just – adj. fair to all people

annulment –v. to say officially a marriage is no longer valid

change agent –n. someone who brings change