Pope Francis rocks the boat in his first US visit

Schools were closed, bus tickets reserved, and streets were barricaded in Philadelphia and New York in anticipation of the masses that would be spilling out on the streets for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States in late September. His six-day trip, starting in Washington D.C. with a personal welcome from President Barack Obama and a White House reception, drew enormous attention and even bigger crowds.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

The morning of his first full day was marked by his official White House reception, held on the South Lawn and attended by the President, who also held a personal meeting with the pontiff. At the reception, the pope gave a speech in which he affirmed the right to religious liberty, and praised Obama’s initiatives on addressing global climate change. “It seems clear to me … that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” Pope Francis said in his speech.

Although this reception was private, Francis immediately followed it with an 11 a.m. tour around the ellipse and the National Mall, where thousands of people lined the streets for a chance to see the pope traveling in the iconic popemobile. His tour ended at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where he led midday prayers, gave a nod to the Jewish community’s celebration of Yom Kippur occurring that day, and spoke to the bishops present.

At 4:15, as he celebrated Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the pope canonized Junipero Serra, a friar who held several missions in California to convert natives to Catholicism. Serra is the first person to be canonized on U.S. grounds. This particular event was met with protests from indigenous Latino communities, who argued that Serra stripped Natives of their religion and their culture. Nevertheless, the pope praised Serra, claiming instead that he advocated for Natives and spread his religious faith appropriately.

Thursday, Sept. 24

Thursday’s most significant event came when Pope Francis delivered a speech to the United States Congress. Defying expectations of a discussion on abortion or same-sex marriage, Francis focused on immigration, racial injustice, poverty and the death penalty, focusing his speech on the rights of the marginalized and the oppressed.

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” Francis said. Francis is Argentinian, the first pope ever to come from Latin America. “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educated new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

This speech generated a lot of political discussion: John Boehner, Speaker of the House and devout Catholic, who was seen in tears during the Pope’s speech, stepped down from his position the next day. It was suggested that a private meeting with the Pope, and the completion of his 20-year goal to have a pontiff speak to Congress, led Boehner to make the decision to resign.

Friday, Sept. 25

On Friday the Pope spoke to the assembly of the United Nations, where he once again advocated for attention to the impoverished, the rampant presence of human trafficking, and the urgency of addressing climate change. “We cannot permit ourselves to postpone ‘certain agendas’ for the future,” he said. “The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of worldwide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.”

Following a multi-religious service performed at the 9/11 memorial site, the pope visited Our Lady Queen of Angels school, a grade school located in East Harlem with an overwhelmingly Hispanic and Black population.

After this the pope traveled via motorcade through Central Park, where more than 80,000 New Yorkers crammed into the park in order to catch sight of the pontiff. At 6 p.m. that evening, Pope Francis delivered Mass in Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, Sept. 26

On his first day in Philadelphia, the Pope delivered Mass once again, this time at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. Following that, he visited Independence Mall, where 50,000 attendees watched him deliver a speech on religious freedom. In the speech he also addressed the extensive Hispanic community in the area. “Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face … You should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”

At 7:30 p.m. the Pope attended the Festival of Families, part of the World Meeting of Families Gathering, where a number of artists, including famous Italian singer Andrea Bocelli, performed for the event. The night ended with a Prayer Vigil.

Sunday, Sept. 27

On the final day of the pontiff’s visit, Francis held a private meeting with five survivors of Catholic church sexual abuse, expressing solidarity and shame for the church’s inadequacy in protecting victims. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.” Although the visit, unlisted on his itinerary, received an emotional response, advocates against sexual abuse in the church announced afterwards that they considered his apologies hollow and repetitive, demanding evidence of real action to address the abuse and punish those responsible for perpetuating it and covering it up.

He later traveled to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. In his visit he addressed inmates with a speech referencing the Catholic tradition of washing feet to advocate for prison reformation. The tradition of feet-washing, the pope said, came from an era in which it was customary to greet any and all visitors into your home by washing their feet, which would be dusty and sore from their journey. The shared experience of empathy that led to hosts washing their visitors’ feet served, according to the Pope, as a message of humbleness and acceptance, which he extended to the inmates.

“We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from traveling alone,” he said. “He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us what about we have done. … It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.”

That afternoon the pope spoke at the closing of the World Meeting of Families gathering and then to the workers, volunteers and benefactors of the event afterwards, speaking about the need for tolerance and hope, before boarding a plane to return to Rome that evening.

By the end of his trip the pope had drawn millions to see him. The next question is whether the politics of the Catholic Church will follow through and press for real change.


Information for this article taken from theguardian.com, time.com, nytimes.com, nbcnews.com, cnn.com and popefrancisvisit.com

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