By Mary Rezac
On the papal flight from Cuba to Washington, D.C., where Pope Francis held the customary press conference with journalists on board, an Italian reporter posed a particularly tough question.
What was the Holy Father’s response to the rampant rumors in the media just ahead of his U.S. visit that he is left-leaning, maybe even a “communist Pope” or even “not a Catholic”?
Pope Francis did not seem surprised by the questions, but denied that his teachings on the economy and environment ever strayed from Church teaching.
“I’m sure that I haven’t said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church,” he said.
On a different flight, the Pope recalled, someone else asked him whether or not he had reached out a hand to the “popular movements”, and whether or not the Church would follow him.
“I told him, ‘I’m the one following the Church,’” Pope Francis said.
“No, my doctrine on this, in Laudato si’, on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And if it is necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh,” he quipped.
Having just wrapped up his papal visit to Cuba, Pope Francis was asked by another journalist whether or not he would speak about the U.S. embargo on Cuba during his address to Congress Thursday.
“And my wish is that we reach a good conclusion in this, that there might be an agreement that satisfies both sides. An agreement, yes?” the Holy Father said.
But whether he would specifically address the Cuba embargo, or the topics of embargo, with the United States Congress, the Pope was unsure, since “the speech is finished so I can’t say; or better put, I’m thinking well about what I might say about it.”
While in Cuba, 50 dissidents were arrested outside of the Cuban nunciature, where they were trying to score a meeting with the Pope.
There have also been concerns about ontroversial guests at the White House welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis, which include LGBT activists and others.
Asked whether he would have liked to meet with the Cuban dissidents, the Pope had two things to say.
“I like to meet with all people. I consider that all people are children of God and the law. And secondly, a relationship with another person always enriches. Even though it was soothsaying, that’s my reply. I would like to meet with everyone,” he said.
But, he added, he was unable to meet with the dissidents at the nunciature because he was on a state visit, and needed to respect the schedule of the country he was visiting.
“For the nunciature, first, it was very clear that I was not going to give audiences because not only the dissidents asked for audiences, but also audiences (were requested) from other sectors, including from the chief of state. And, no, I am on a visit to a nation, and just that. I know that I hadn’t planned any audience with the dissidents or the others.”
Pope Francis’ U.S. visit spans Sept. 22-27. During his stay, the pontiff will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, visit an inner-city school, address a joint session of Congress, meet with President Barack Obama, visit the United Nations, and close with a Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
He comes to the U.S. after a three-day trip to Cuba, where he met with Fidel Castro and celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square.