Pope Francis: Mercy in America


The excitement is palpable

With Pope Francis’ trip to the United States right around the corner, the excitement is palpable. The political buzz and tension about his visit is also hard to ignore. Over 2 million people are expected to be show up for his appearances over the 6 days of his trip from Washington to Philadelphia to New York. Many expect that the papal visit has great potential to be politically charged. He has spoken boldly on past trips on issues like poverty, climate change, polarization, and immigration. We can safely say that his speeches and homilies won’t be the same but will the Pope bring his political voice to America, or will he focus on his message of Mercy.

Pope Francis will probably avoid making his entire visit a political campaign, but it may be difficult for him to bite his tongue at every meeting and address. The White House has set him up quite nicely by extending invitations to the Holy Father’s arrival ceremony in Washington DC to several people who have worked diligently against the teachings of the Church. The Vatican has already expressed its concern to the White House about the guest list which was incidentally only released last week leaving the Pope little time if any to change plans. Still, Pope Francis may use the opportunity to his advantage and find a way to articulate the teachings of the Catholic Church in the face of the Obama Administration’s passive aggressiveness.

Pope Francis has never been to the United States until this visit

With the personal travel motto of “Go to the Peripheries,” the US was far down on Francis’ long list of countries to be visited in these first 2 years of his pontificate. 

Initially Pope Francis wanted to take his first steps into the United States by dramatically walking across the Mexican-American border to demonstrate his solidarity with immigrants who do the same.  This highly political gesture didn’t end up part of the papal plan in part due to the bright light now being shed on the link between illegal immigration and crime in the US. Francis will likely still make his views on immigration known in some other way during his visit which may strike a dissonant chord among many now-engaged Americans.

The pontiff has also taken a controversial political position on climate change which he will most likely bring up in his speech at the UN in New York City.  In his second papal encyclical, Francis said that he believes climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity today.”  In NYC, Francis might attempt to inspire an inter-religious dialogue for peace during his appearance at Ground Zero.

The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia

One of the cornerstones of his American visit is surely to be the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The event claims as its primary goal to inspire families in their mission of love.  The Gospel reading for the Papal Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in downtown Philly will be the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Francis also plans to visit a prison in Philadelphia which just may be one of the most memorable moments of mercy on his trip to the United States. 

Aside from the present political climate in the US and the Pope’s involvement in some global non-religious affairs, Pope Francis is in fact coming to the US to spread his message of peace, love, and especially mercy. Many Catholics may be disappointed that his trip won’t be more political given our current issues like the HHS mandate, the redefinition of marriage, the Planned Parenthood fiasco, religious liberty, and illegal immigration – all issues that could use a pontiff’s input. But anyone looking for strong political chess moves might be left disappointed. The Pope is probably going to play it pretty safe on his first US trip.

The Main Mission – Messages of Mercy

His main mission in visiting the United States seems pretty clear: inspire mercy in the hearts of all Americans – not only the Catholics. After all the speculation about what Pope Francis may say and do on his first visit to America, the impression he leaves on America is sure to be a lasting one.

Taylor Leigh