Pope Francis will meet with homeless people, immigrants and prisoners during his upcoming trip to Cuba and the United States and become the first pope to address the U.S. Congress. He’ll also preside over a meeting about religious liberty – a major issue for U.S. bishops in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.
The Vatican published the itinerary Tuesday for the eagerly awaited Sept. 19-28 visit. Francis added the Cuba leg onto the start of his U.S. trip after helping contribute to the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
In Cuba, he’ll celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana – as both of his immediate predecessors did during their trips to the Caribbean island nation. He’ll travel to Holguin and pray before the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, the patron of Cuba, and meet with Cuban families in the eastern city of Santiago.
Francis arrives in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22 and the next day will be welcomed at the White House by President Barack Obama.
He will address Congress on Sept. 24, and will meet with homeless people later in the day at a local parish, St. Patrick’s.
On Sept. 25, Francis will speak on sustainable development at the United Nations, where he’ll have another opportunity to voice his concerns about the environment.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress, and even some Republican U.S. presidential candidates, have largely shrugged off Francis’ denunciation of the current global economic system in which he says wealthy countries exploit the poor and pollute the Earth in the process.
Nevertheless, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers were welcoming the unprecedented papal address to Congress “with open ears and hearts.” Francis will host an interfaith gathering at Ground Zero in New York and meet with children and immigrant families in Harlem.
Unlike his predecessors, Francis has no meeting planned with the Jewish community, though U.S. church officials said Jewish representatives would participate in the interfaith event. An unannounced encounter with victims of priestly sexual abuse is also a possibility.
While Pope Paul VI in 1965, St. John Paul II in 1979 and Benedict XVI in 2008 celebrated Mass in Yankee Stadium, Francis will celebrate Mass for a smaller crowd in Madison Square Garden. He’ll also preside over a vespers service at the newly spruced-up St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
On Sept. 26, he will join the church’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, a big rally for the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on families. He will host a “meeting for religious liberty” on Independence Mall with immigrants and the Hispanic community, the Vatican itinerary said.