By now most everyone has probably heard that Pope Francis will be visiting the United States at the end of September. He’ll be here on the heels of a visit to Cuba and will spend five days in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. While he’s here, he’ll meet with President Obama and address a joint session of Congress as well as the United Nations. He’s also here to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. It will be a jam-packed schedule with full media coverage. There will surely be plenty of opportunities for the outspoken Pope to make the kind of off-the-cuff remarks for which he’s become famous. So we can expect some folks to be surprised, shocked, confused, disappointed, and/or elated by what he might say. We should all be ready for that. And we need to understand why it happens.
Catholics know that our Pope is the head of the Church which our Lord founded on St. Peter (Matthew 16:18). And while we know that he isn’t perfect or sinless, we look to him with all the hope and expectations with which we might look to St. Peter, the first Pope. When Francis speaks, we hear echoes of the Fisherman. Through him, we feel connected to that first living faith of the Church and so, in some ways, every word he says is gold. Is this fair? Of course not. Is it realistic? No. But as the Pope, it’s just part of the job. And in a world with 24/7 media coverage, every word and every gesture goes under the microscope. Of course, we won’t know what Pope Francis is going to say until he says it. But looking over his schedule (and his papacy to this point) we can make some predictions about the theme of this visit. If we do that, maybe we won’t be so shocked at some of the headlines that he’ll generate.
1) The Pope will tell us that unrestrained capitalism is not the answer to poverty. He’ll challenge us to do better at providing for the poorest among us. He’ll tell us that we have a duty as a wealthy country to care for children, women, and families who need food, housing, education, and employment.
2) The Pope will chide us for the way we treat immigrants to our country. This includes those who come to our country illegally. He’ll tell us it’s our duty to protect and defend the family ties that prompt many immigrants to cross our southern border. He’ll want us to be more compassionate to and supportive of immigrant families.
3) The Pope will tell us that climate change is real and that industrialized nations like ours are a big contributor to it. He’ll encourage us to decrease our carbon emissions and to use alternative energies more aggressively. He’ll tell us that we have a responsibility to be better stewards of God’s creation.
4) The Pope will teach us that the surest path to peace and justice in the world is through the support of marriage and the family. This won’t be what many might want to hear, but that’s not what the Pope and the Church are all about. He will continue to support and defend marriage as a unique covenant between one man and one woman which reflects the love of Christ for His Church.
Of course, we all have issues we’d like to hear the Pope address. Some want Francis to expand the role of women in the Church. Others hope for a return to more traditional worship. As for myself, I’m praying the Pope will boldly defend the sanctity of life and address the horrors of Planned Parenthood in this country. I hope he’ll challenge our Bishops to do the same. And I pray that he’ll call us all to fearlessly live the Gospel in our daily lives, as a contradiction to worldliness, consumerism, relativism, and “me-ism.” I hope his visit will change us and awaken our hearts to the gift of our faith. And I’m kind of looking forward to all the ways he’s going to be misunderstood and misquoted by the press. It’s always a hoot watching the world shake its collective head. Maybe this time, they’ll listen a little more closely.
“Ask Jesus what He wants from you and be brave!”