On Tuesday of this week Pope Francis arrives in the United States for a six day visit. This is not only his first visit as pope, but his first time ever in our country. During his visit the Holy Father will address Congress – the first time a pope has done so – and the United Nations. But the main purpose of his trip is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. There he will undoubtedly affirm the importance of family life and the sanctity of marriage as God designed it from the beginning. In his Letter to the World Meeting of Families he urges us “to rediscover ever again the royal road, in order to live and proclaim the grandeur and beauty of marriage and the joy of being and making a family.”
Another highlight of the Pope’s visit will be the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra. Father Serra was a Spanish missionary who evangelized much of what is now the state of California. He established many historic missions which became centers of faith for Native Americans. While some groups contest such missionary activity as colonialism, Father Serra’s faith led him to promote the rights and dignity of Native Americans. Most of all he desired to share the Good News of Jesus in word and deed and so can serve as a model for us who are called to share our faith with others.
Among the issues we can expect Pope Francis to address are immigration, religious liberty, and the care of the earth, “our common home.” These are all themes which form important parts of the Holy Father’s recent teaching, especially his recent encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.” Because English is not a language Pope Francis has facility with, we can expect that much of what he says will be in his native Spanish. (By the way, it is estimated that within the next couple decades the majority of Catholics in the United States will be Spanish speaking.)
Of course Francis is a pope of surprises, so we can expect a few “unscripted” moments during his visit. He will visit with prisoners in Philadelphia and an inner city school in Harlem. All in all, we can expect this to be an exciting week not only for Catholics but for all our fellow Americans of good will. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will move hearts to embrace the Gospel that Pope Francis comes to proclaim in word and deed. Like soon-to-be “saint” Junipero Serra, the Holy Father come to us as a “missionary.” May the Spirit make us receptive to his message of mercy and hope!