In just about 10 days Pope Francis will make his first trip ever to the United States. He will be visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. This is an historic occasion and will be well covered (perhaps excessively so) by all the media. Pope Francis is a hot news item. He is, for better or worse, a celebrity.
However there is much more going on with this visit than just a big media event. For all the hoopla and hype it is important to at least try to remain focused on the deeper and more meaningful aspects of Pope Francis’ visit.
First of all, I encourage you to pray for the Pope’s safety during his time in our country. Frankly, Pope Francis is a nightmare for security personnel. Pope Francis’ love for people and his warm Hispanic nature, lead him to disregard security issues to make direct and personal contact with people. All people. People are drawn to him like a magnet, and Pope Francis is drawn to be close and among the people he both leads and serves. I applaud Pope Francis for that. But I also worry that given the number guns out there, and the number of mentally ill people who are not getting the treatment they need, that Pope Francis is running a big risk.
I remember many years ago when I was a young priest stationed near Fairbanks at St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska. We had a parishioner who was pretty high up in the Alaskan State Troopers. Pope John Paul II stopped in Fairbanks once on his way home from a trip to Asia, and the papal plane had to refuel in Fairbanks. The Pope was only at the airport for a couple of hours, but he came out and spoke to the crowd there. I was startled when our Alaskan State Trooper parishioner later stated, with evident relief, that he was never so happy as when he saw the Pope’s plane taking off from Fairbanks and leaving. So I am certain that many security people will give a big sigh of relief when Pope Francis departs the U.S. To have the Pope harmed on your watch would be a terrible thing. So pray for Pope Francis’ safety.
Secondly, I urge you to pay attention to what the Pope says. He has come all the way from Rome not just to see the sights, not just to try a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, but he comes to us to bring us a message. Actually, probably several messages. It is much easier just to enjoy the hoopla, but I urge you to take the time and effort and really listen to his message. Listen with an open mind and a prayerful heart. He may speak to us about the insidious nature of too much wealth and technology, or about immigration and refugees, or our responsibility to protect the environment, or the need for communities of genuine concern and love, or something else. He will be making several major addresses at his Masses, at the U.N., to the U.S. Congress, and at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. So there will probably be lots of content. The Pope has multiple occasions to speak on various topics and it is a pretty good bet he will use them all.
The visit of Pope Francis is a rare and also beautiful opportunity. We can be proud to be members of the Catholic Church. More importantly, we can use this opportunity – no, this gift – to refresh and deepen our faith in Jesus Christ as members of His Body in the Catholic Church. That would be the best part of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.