The days of Pope Francis’ historic visit are indeed upon us. Whether one agrees with his style, message, and agenda (as best it can be discerned) or not, one thing is for sure: he does draw a crowd.
And he has already re-shaped the world around him. He landed this afternoon in Cuba, on his way to the United States, intentionally linking the two countries in his Western Hemisphere sweep, that have been political antagonists for decades now. Pope Francis is credited for playing a decisive role in the brokering of the recent thaw in relationship with Cuba and the U.S., and indeed in his opening remarks in Havana, he made reference to this new harmonization, and he expressed his hope that this would be an example to other parts of the world torn by conflict.
The Holy Father also repeated a phrase or a description he has used before in other recent travels. He said that right now we are living through “a third World War that we are witnessing in stages.” For him, all the regional, “piecemeal” conflicts around the world constitute multiple fronts of one large battle, and in Cuba he has once again explained, hours ago, that the only real path to victory is to adopt a culture of common dialogue.
Indeed, he is big on dialogue. In the days ahead, both in Cuba and in the United States, he will do what he does best: provoke conversation. In that way he is a brilliant pastor to the world.
His schedule is full. On the 22nd, Tuesday, he lands in Washington, DC, and while there he will pray with the United States Bishops, and he will also be the first pope to address a special, joint session of Congress. I’ve no doubt he will have pointed things to say to both groups, further proving that the modern papacy is as political as it ever was, with the Successor of Peter wielding divinely given authority over both Church and State. He is also going to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, tireless missionary of the West Coast, reinforcing the truth that Saints are grown on every continent, including our own.
Then onto New York on Thursday the 24th. He will speak to the United Nations, as popes have done when they visit here. He will also spend time there, (and at each stop) with the poor and the young, showing the heart of a pastor that the world has come to love.
On Saturday the 26th he will arrive in Philadelphia, celebrating Mass at the city’s beautiful Cathedral, and speaking at the Festival of Families later that evening. His visit there will conclude the World Meeting of Families; there will be a huge Mass on Sunday in Philly, his last full day in the States.
The whole world will be watching. What is Pope Francis going to say to the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth? What will he say to the American Church, which is one of the largest in the world? What will he say to families, some of whom right now find him maddeningly unsupportive of their struggles to live our teachings on marriage, and others of whom are convinced he’s the best friend of alternative lifestyles everywhere? We shall see.
God is using his pontificate to shape the world and to advance His Kingdom. How amazing it is that one man, OUR POPE, can generate such a stir. How remarkable that so many can feel proud to be Catholic in the days ahead, and that so many non-Catholics are paying such close attention.
He is big on dialogue, and this visit will be a big push for more of it. The thing is, though, that at some point dialogue has to give way to clarity, and that is what a lot of us are waiting for on a few key issues and topics that have appeared less than clear of late.
I am very blessed to be able to travel in a few days to Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families in its entirety, listening to the speakers, visiting with the faithful from around the world. And of course, listening to Pope Francis in person. It will be a great experience. And part of why I am going is because I want to hear what everyone is saying about where we are going in this new era of dialogue. I want to hear what the Pope is going to say to families.
Here comes the Pope. It will indeed be an important visit.