Excitement has been building for weeks about Pope Francis visiting the United States. Although he will not step foot in Wisconsin, like so many hoped he would, it doesn’t hinder the joy we feel in knowing that Pope Francis will be on U.S. soil for the first time.
When his plane touches down at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 22, what will his message to Americans be over the next five days? If we look back at some of Pope Francis’ previous addresses, homilies and writings, we know his words will be filled with joy, hope and inspiration.
Pope Francis will also offer challenging messages to a country that has been blessed with wealth and prosperity, a country that gives so much to others in need while at the same time allowing disparities to exist.
Care for the poor, the unborn, immigrants, the imprisoned and for God’s creation will no doubt be major themes in Pope Francis’ addresses to Congress, the United Nations, the U.S. bishops and to all of America. What he says here will have implications on economic and social policies for years to come.
As we gear up for the 2016 presidential elections, Pope Francis will undoubtedly challenge candidates and voters to put the welfare of the neediest first and he may even help set the agenda for candidate platforms.
In his first major document, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis devoted a chapter to the social dimension of evangelization, which emphasizes the inclusion of the poor in society. It’s a topic that will be repeated next week.
“Our faith in Christ, who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members,” wrote Pope Francis.
A society that does not care for its most vulnerable citizens does not follow the Gospel and Pope Francis will deliberately offer this caution. He will remind us that mercy is given to us when it is offered by us.
In Laudato Si, the pope’s recent encyclical, Pope Francis stresses that care for the earth is part of Catholic social teaching. “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” he writes. Expect the pope to challenge political and business leaders to embrace an economy and technology that welcome a “culture of care.” Expect him also to tie care for mother earth to care for its most vulnerable creatures.
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected,” Pope Francis notes in Laudato Si. “Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble.”
Pope Francis will also remind us about the importance of prayer, the sacraments and devotion to God as fuel to make all of this happen.
Excitement indeed abounds for this papal visit. Not only for the man who has brought excitement to the papacy, but for the message he will bring. The countdown has begun.