Having the leader of the Roman Catholic church visit the United States is much more than a religiously significant occasion. Pope Francis’ stay this week will warrant attention from people of all faiths, those without denominational preference, agnostics and atheists alike.
He is that important of a leader — and that influential on the world stage.
The venues that will play host to the pope beginning Wednesday underscore his status. Francis will be greeted by President Barack Obama at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday. On Wednesday, about 15,000 will join him on the White House’s South Lawn before the pope joins a parade on the National Mall and then canonizes a missionary priest at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Francis then will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday and the United Nations on Friday.
Following three days in the nation’s capital, the papal entourage heads to New York City and then Philadelphia.
Nobody can predict what Francis will discuss while here, but it’s a safe bet some of the topics will include climate change, economic inequality, poverty, birth control and immigration. And don’t be surprised if abortion, normalized relations with Cuba, the excesses of capitalism, same-sex marriage and the nuclear deal with Iran also surface. This popular pope has no qualms speaking his mind about anything he deems significant.
There is something for everyone in his core issues, yet no side of the political spectrum will claim 100-percent agreement on his stances.
“He doesn’t fit the Washington categories — right, left, liberal, conservative,” said John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, in an interview with Tribune News Service. “Anyone who tries to use the pope for their own political purposes will fail. The power of the pope’s presence is moral, not political.”
How persuasive that moral presence can be in these divided states of America remains to be seen. We are hopeful the 78-year-old pontiff can move the needle on a much-needed commitment to uplift marginalized peoples everywhere as well as the spirit of true forgiveness. Far too many Americans hold pious disregard for those beneath them, while elected leaders have moved beyond mere judgment to punishing the least fortunate.
Of particular interest will be the first pope from Latin America’s address to Congress. Each one of the 535 members could learn something about mercy — as could most of the masses following the papal visit on various media.
We welcome Pope Francis to America. May your visit be long remembered.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry