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Pope’s visit to Catholic Charities meal seen as sign of hope for the poor
By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Benedict Zama looked out from her table and Pope Francis was coming toward her moments after he arrived at the St. Maria’s Meal program of Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese.
“Hello,” she said in her native French, extending her right hand. “Welcome. How are you?”
“It’s going well,” Zama said the pope responded, also in French.
That’s when her son, Ezekiel, 7, walked up the pope, hugged him and shook his hand.
“It felt good,” Ezekiel told Catholic News Service after the encounter.
Zama, a native of the Central African Republic and client of the Catholic Charities’ Family Re-Housing and Family Stabilization program, said she was surprised and pleased to meet the pope. “I am glad,” she said.
The pope’s visit lasted about 15 minutes and he was unable to sit down for lunch in the makeshift dining center set up under a tent in front of Catholic Charities headquarters in downtown Washington.
Many of the 500 invitees swarmed the pope after he said a brief prayer over the food, wished the mixture of Catholic Charities clients, volunteers and staff “buen apetito” and stepped into the tent.
He walked slowly through the crowd accompanied by at least five security agents, smiling, shaking hands and exchanging brief greetings. He stopped at several points, including once to address one of the security agents.
Although short, the visit left a lifetime of memories, especially for those who got to meet him.
Alan Lockett, 53, a resident of the Adam’s Place shelter Catholic Charities operates, showed off the photo he took of the pope with his smartphone and posted on Facebook. The 23-year retired Navy veteran said he never thought he’d “get this close” to the pope.
“He put his palm in my palm,” Lockett said. “He held it for five seconds. It seemed like an hour.”
Juan Pablo Segura, 27, a volunteer with the meal program, said he invited Pope Francis to stay for lunch, but the pontiff declined, saying he had to leave.
“But he said to enjoy lunch. He asked me to pray for him,” Segura said.
Prior to the pope’s arrival, a festive atmosphere enshrouded the tent, where 55 tables had been set up for people. People mingled and walked from table to table sharing their excitement about the pope’s visit.
Robert Lee Grant Jr. sat at a table the pope passed. He said he shook the pontiff’s hand, never thinking he would ever meet any pope, let alone one who places the needs of poor and homeless people foremost. Given life’s challenges — Grant said he has been shot, stabbed, hit several times by a car and was injured at a construction site when a cement block fell 18 feet and hit his head — meeting the pope was especially memorable.
“I’m a religious man anyway and anything that is lifting up God, I have to be there,” he told CNS prior to the pope’s visit. “I’ve been saved by a lot myself. Just glad to be around.”
Grant and the others waited more than three hours for the pope to arrive. Most had gathered by 8 a.m. in the tent and got periodic updates on the pope’s schedule. The anticipation grew after hearing Pope Francis had left the Capitol, where he had addressed a joint meeting of Congress and toured Statuary Hall to see a sculpture of the church’s newest saint, Junipero Serra, a Spanish-born Franciscan who was a missionary in California.
At another table, Tyeshia Harrison, 28, was keeping two of her toddler sons busy. Year-old Nemo was squirming and grabbing everything in sight. Agape, 3, was coloring pictures of Pope Francis that Catholic Charities staff had distributed.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said Harrison, who is living with all four of her boys in Catholic Charities’ Angel’s Watch shelter for domestic violence survivors in Charles County, Maryland. “God put it in my heart to show my appreciation by being here.
“Catholic Charities has opened the door for me to provide a safe haven, a comfortable bed, school supplies, many positive resources in my critical time,” she said.
Ron Dorsey was equally thankful for the work of Catholic Charities and the chance to see Pope Francis. The resident of the 801 East Men’s Shelter in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood said the pope is a man of the people.
“They call Pope Francis the ‘slum pope.’ He really reaches out to people who are down and I really like that about him,” Dorsey said.
He and several others were hopeful that the pontiff’s speech to Congress and his visit to St. Maria’s Meal program would push society to begin to concretely address homelessness, poverty and other social concerns.
Kenneth Pearson, 46, another 801 resident, said that having the pope around should remind people of the needs of the less fortunate.
“I am glad to see him in Washington, to visit to talk with the homeless and to see what he could do to help the homeless. It would be a blessing if he could help us out with housing,” Pearson told CNS.
“Nobody should be in this predicament like this. … I wish I had my own place. Trying to survive, figuring out where your next meal will be, where you’re going to shower. It’s not right.
“So we ask for his (Pope Francis) blessing to get these people off the street, to find affordable housing. I count on him helping my brothers. We appreciate what he can do for us.”
Pope to Congress: Stop bickering, world needs your help
By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The past, the promise and the potential of the United States must not be smothered by bickering and even hatred at a time when the U.S. people and indeed the world need a helping hand, Pope Francis told the U.S. Congress.
Making history by being the first pope ever to address a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis was introduced to the legislators by the House sergeant at arms Sept. 24 as: “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See.”
The pope introduced himself, though, as a son of the American continent, who had been blessed by the “new world” and felt a responsibility toward it.
In a long speech, he gave the sense that he sees the United States as a country divided, one so focused on calling each other names that it risks losing sight of how impressive it can be when its people come together for the common good. That is when it is a beacon of hope for the world, he said.
Pope Francis condemned legalized abortion, the death penalty and unscrupulous weapons sales. He called on Congress to “seize the moment” by moving forward with normalizing relations with Cuba. And, again referring to himself as a “son of immigrants” — and pointing out that many of the legislators are, too — he pleaded for greater openness to accepting immigrants.
A reporter had asked the pope in July about why he spoke so much about the poor and about the rich, but rarely about the lives and struggles of the hard-working, tax-paying middle class. The result of a papal promise to correct that was the speech to Congress and through Congress to the American people.
“I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families,” the pope said.
“These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society,” he said. “They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.”
Showing he had studied the United States before the visit — something he said he would do during the Rome August break — he used four iconic U.S. citizens as relevant models of virtue for Americans today: Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did; when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work; the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton,” the pope said.
Describing political service with the same tone used to describe a vocation to religious life — “you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you” — the pope recognized the weighty responsibility of being a member of the U.S. Congress.
Dialogue, he said, is the only way to handle the pressure and fulfill the call to serve the common good, promoting a culture of “hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
For the speech, Pope Francis stood in the House chamber in front of Rep. John Boehner, speaker of the House and a Republican from Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden, president of the Senate. Both men are Catholics. Besides the senators, representatives and their invited guests, the attendees included members of the U.S. Supreme Court and members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
Tens thousands of people watched the speech on giant screen from the Capitol’s West Lawn. Gathered hours before the pope’s morning visit, they were entertained by military bands.
In his speech, Pope Francis gave strong support to several concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic faithful, including defending the right of people to publicly live their faith and join political policy debates from a faith-based perspective.
“It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society,” he said. The dialogue the country needs must be respectful of “our differences and our convictions of conscience.”
“Every life is sacred,” he insisted, calling for the “global abolition of the death penalty” and the “responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Some U.S. politicians and pundits have expressed confusion or even anger over Pope Francis’ teaching about the damage provoked when money becomes a god and profits count more than people. The pope insists his words are straight out of Catholic social teaching.
His speech to Congress included more of that teaching, delving deeper into the positive aspects of a market economy — as long as it is ethical and includes controls, solidarity and a safety net for the poorest and weakest members of society.
“The creation and distribution of wealth” obviously is important for continued efforts to reduce poverty in the United States and around the globe, he said. “The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”
“Business is a noble vocation” when it seeks the common good, Pope Francis said. And today, he told legislators, the common good includes protecting the environment and taking bold steps “to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
Pope canonizes Junipero Serra, says faith is alive only when shared
By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Canonizing the 18th-century Spanish missionary, Blessed Junipero Serra, Pope Francis insisted a person’s faith is alive only when it is shared.
Celebrating a late afternoon Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Sept. 23, the pope declared the holiness of St. Junipero, founder of a string of missions in California.
Some people had objected to the canonization — like the beatification of the Spaniard in 1988 — because of questions about how Father Serra treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.
Pope Francis mentioned the controversy only briefly, saying: “Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs, which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.”
Vincent Medina, who has questioned the wisdom of the canonization, read the first Scripture reading in the Chochenyo language of the Ohlone people of Northern California.
Before the formal proclamation of the missionary’s sainthood, a choir and the congregation chanted a litany invoking the intercession of Jesus, Mary, the apostles and a long list of saints, including other saints who lived and worked in the United States, such as St. Frances Cabrini, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian to be canonized. The canonization of St. Junipero, however, was the first such ceremony to be celebrated in the United States rather than at the Vatican.
After the formal proclamation, Andrew Galvan, curator of Dolores Mission in San Francisco, brought a relic of St. Junipero up to a stand near the altar as a song was sung in Spanish accompanied by a drumbeat.
Catholics in the United States and throughout the world are indebted to St. Junipero and thousands of other witnesses who lived their faith and passed it on, the pope said in his homily.
St. Junipero “was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life,” Pope Francis said.
A missionary’s life is exciting and brings joy, he said, because it is not sedentary or turned in on itself. Sharing the Gospel is the way to keep experiencing the joy it brings and keeps the heart “from growing numb from being anesthetized.”
More than speaking about St. Junipero, Pope Francis spoke about keeping faith alive and joyful, calling on all Catholics to be missionaries.
“Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual,” he told the crowd of about 25,000 people. “Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.”
Pope Francis insisted that Jesus does not given Christians “a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence.”
Instead, Jesus embraced people as they were, even those who were “dirty, unkept, broken,” he said. Jesus says to believers today, like yesterday, “Go out and embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be.”
“The joy of the Gospel,” the pope sad, “is something to be experienced, something to be known and live only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
Before the Mass, Pope Francis made a short visit inside the basilica, where he briefly greeted families and men and women studying to be priests and sisters. They had waited inside for more than two hours.
Parents like Margarita and Carlos Ramos, who brought their 7-year-old son Samuel to Mass, were in the pews, sharing a prayer before all started, while Secret Service snipers stayed alert in several balconies.
“I like Pope Francis because he was born in Argentina; he is one of us. I would love to have the chance to be blessed by him. I´m telling everybody in my second grade class that I was sitting here the day he made Junipero Serra a saint.”
“It is a historic moment,” said Sister Maria Virgen Oyente of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. She was in the line to get inside the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with a group of about 20 nuns. “We are very happy to be here. The line is long and is getting hot, but we are reading about Fray Junipero Serra, and that makes us feel better.”
“My expectations for today are very high,” said St. John Vianney College seminarian Gustavo Santos. “Imagine what it is to be in the same place with your pastor, the vicar of Christ on earth, I can’t even describe it with my own words.”
“I admire Pope Francis’ simplicity and mercy for the poor and vulnerable,” said Yoandy Gonzalez, born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and currently attending St. John Seminary. “The pope teaches us all simple ways to truly live the Gospel as Christ every day.”
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Contributing to this story was Constanza Morales.
Shouts, waves greet papal motorcade during a brief trip around Ellipse
By Kurt Jensen
WASHINGTON (CNS) — “Paaaaapaaaaa!”
Popes in popemobiles create, as they always do, a sort of undulating ecstasy in the faithful who have traveled to see them.
It was no different for Pope Francis as his heavily guarded Jeep Wrangler made a brief trip around the Ellipse under a sun-dappled sky Sept. 23.
There were shouts, waves and a solid forest of arms holding cellphones high along two blocks of Constitution Avenue as thousands sought to get the pope to look in their direction.
“Amazing! He gave us a blessing!” said Honduran-born Matilde Alvarado of Falls Church, Virginia. Francis was the third pope she’d seen in person.
The high security — uniformed officers from several agencies, bomb-sniffing dogs, Homeland Security and FBI agents, fire trucks and ambulances — bothered her a bit, though.
She thought the show of force got in the way of Francis’ determination to present a pastoral image. “It’s a little bit too much, you know? Too much. I don’t think he liked that.”
Sophia Cruz, a persistent 5-year-old on Constitution Avenue, was allowed to present the pope something after he gestured in her direction. She gave him a handwritten letter, for which she earned a hug.
Pope Francis also kissed an infant boy handed to him by plainclothes officers.
Spectators began arriving at 4 a.m. (EDT) when gates to the secured area opened. Most, though, arrived by mid-morning and had only a few hours to wait before the “parade” rolled by shortly after 11 a.m.
What to do during the hours of expectation? Some brought card games. Many women prayed the rosary. Others swapped stories of other popes they’d seen and chatted with police.
Protesters were in short supply. Two of them — burly men holding placards proclaiming that both the pope and President Barack Obama were the Antichrist making secret plots — got more than they bargained for when they began shouting, “Turn away from your false religion!”
Police wouldn’t intervene in a free-speech matter that had not escalated beyond the verbal stage. So as if on cue, several Latinas stood, turned toward the men, held their rosaries aloft, and began singing, “Ave, ave, ave Maria, ave, ave, ave Maria.”
The protesters were shortly on their way down the sidewalk. “You’re like evil spirits!” one woman shouted as they departed.
Chilean-born Mariajose Ovalle of Alexandria, Virginia, who was there with her 6-year-old son, Matias, said seeing popes in person was a vital emotional part of living her faith. She saw Pope Benedict XVI in London, but her most memorable sight was St. John Paul II at his last World Youth Day, in Toronto in July 2002.
Even at a great distance, “you could feel his presence,” she recalled. “He was frail, but he still did the tour (around Downsview Park). I was overwhelmed. I had tears, but I wasn’t sad.”
Alvarado, who had seen Pope Benedict at The Catholic University of America in 2008, agreed on the need to make a personal connection. “I was able to have eye contact with him. I said, ‘I love you,’ and he looked at me.”
For Francis, Alvarado hoped “to just look, listen and feel the sights of wonders of participating in the welcome of Pope Francis. The emotions of being with all who are out to welcome him, and the joy, you know, of our salvation, which is Christ.”
Alvarado, Ovalle and Alvarado’s friends Andrea and John Finch, rather than risk the uncertainties of a very crowded Metrorail subway train, took a water taxi up the Potomac from Alexandria, arriving shortly after 8 a.m.
Andrea, from Peru, was seeing her first pope in person. John, as a child, had seen Pope Paul VI at a Vatican audience.
The big difference this time: “I can see what’s going on!”
Be shepherds concerned only for God and others, pope tells U.S. bishops
By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Acknowledging the real challenges and burdens the U.S. bishops face in their ministry, Pope Francis shared with them his own experience as a pastor and urged them to keep their eyes focused on Jesus and their hearts open to others.
“Woe to us,” he said, “if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed.”
The 78-year-old pope met the U.S. bishops Sept. 23 in Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for midday prayer. His speech to them, delivered in Italian, was expected to be among the longest of those he would give in the United States.
“I did not come to judge you or to lecture,” the pope said, but he wanted to address the bishops “as a brother among brothers, ” one who served as archbishop of a large, diverse archdiocese and now, “in old age,” is called to encourage Catholics around the world.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, welcomed Pope Francis, telling him, “Your humble witness that no one is beyond the healing power of Christ’s mercy and love energizes the church. True to our heritage, we seek to spread the Good News so that each human life is cherished and given an opportunity to flourish.”
The pope also was welcomed by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who rode with Pope Francis in the popemobile part of the way from the White House to the cathedral.
A majority of the country’s more than 400 bishops were present for the meeting. Many of them, after arriving in a bus caravan, stopped to take photos with their smartphones of a cream-colored sign above the center cathedral doors that read, “Welcome Pope Francis.”
Dozens of office workers in high-rise buildings around the cathedral pressed their faces or smartphones to the glass windows in hopes of getting a better glimpse and photo of the pontiff on the steps leading up the cathedral.
In his speech, Pope Francis focused on the basic qualities needed in a shepherd, a pastor called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s mercy in word and deeds.
The Catholic Church in the United States already excels at that mission in so many ways, the pope told them. “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God … know that the pope is at your side and supports you.”
He also praised the bishops’ defense of the unborn and the U.S. Catholic community’s history of welcoming and assisting migrants and refugees.
Pope Francis also acknowledged the “courage” and the “mortification and great sacrifice” made by the U.S. bishops as they came to grips with the clerical sexual abuse crisis and its impact on survivors.
“I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you, and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims — in the knowledge that in healing we, too, are healed — and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated,” he said.
At the same time, Pope Francis insisted that no matter the challenge, the misunderstanding and even hostility the bishops face, they cannot stop “to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.”
The ministry with which they have been entrusted is God’s, not theirs, he said.
Compassion, joy, inclusivity, simplicity, dialogue, self-giving, mercy and humility must mark a bishops’ ministry, the pope told them.
“As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world,” he told them. But the church can attract people by being “the family fire” that offers warmth, comfort and community.
To do that, the church must be certain of “the embers” of Christ’s presence, “kindled in the fire of his passion,” he said. “Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us.”
Sharing the faith, he said, “is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake.”
People need to know that the message is for them, not for an abstract group, or worse, for a group of like-minded people, Pope Francis insisted. “May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace.”
Bishops, he said, must “flee the temptation of narcissism” and recognize that “we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us.”
Encounter and dialogue must be the hallmarks of a bishop’s interactions with others, especially with those who hold differing opinions, the pope said. Dialogue is not “a shrewd strategy” but the path Jesus chose to offer his love to all people.
Without listening and dialogue, he said, “we fail to understand the thinking of others or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain.”
“Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor,” Pope Francis said. “It has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
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Contributing to this story was David Sedeno in Washington.
Pope, ‘son of immigrant family,’ tells Obama he’s ready to learn in U.S.
By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis introduced himself to President Barack Obama and all people of the United States as a “son of an immigrant family” arriving in the United States for the first time to learn from others and to share from his own experience.
In a country the pope said he knows was “largely built” by immigrant families, he made his debut speech to Americans Sept. 23 on the South Lawn of the White House with some 20,000 people in attendance.
Obama told him, “Our backyard is not typically this crowded,” but the attendance on a bright, sunny morning was a reflection of the devotion of U.S. Catholics “and the way your message of love and hope has inspired so many people, across our nation and around the world.”
While obviously honored by the welcome, Pope Francis was clear in issuing several challenges, including by publicly voicing his support for the U.S. bishops’ defense of religious freedom. The bishops have objected to the Obama Administration’s efforts to force almost all employers, including many Catholic institutions, to fund contraception coverage in health insurance policies.
“Mr. President,” the pope told him, American Catholics want “a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive,” one that safeguards individual rights and rejects “every form of unjust discrimination,” but also respects the deeply held religious beliefs of citizens and the moral and ethical obligations that flow from them.
Obama, in his remarks, spoke about religious freedom as well, but referred only to the defense of Christians being persecuted and even killed for their beliefs around the world.
The pope arrived in the United States from Cuba, and both he and the president spoke about efforts to normalize relations between the two countries after more than five decades of tension and estrangement.
“The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom,” Pope Francis told the president.
Although Pope Francis consistently has downplayed his role in encouraging and supporting Obama and Raul Castro’s talks, the president told him, “Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere and a better life for the Cuban people.”
The crowd on the lawn applauded almost every line of the speeches of both Pope Francis and Obama. The pope, who claims his English is very rudimentary, read the speech in a clear English and used his hands to emphasize some points.
Before moving inside for a private conversation, both leaders also spoke about the environment and, particularly, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical “Laudato Si’,” which urges nations and the international community to take concrete, serious action to slow climate change and help the poor, who are most impacted by environmental destruction.
“Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the pope told the president. Now is a “critical moment” when it is still possible to make positive changes, but they must be made quickly.
“Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them,” he said.
The earth itself has been excluded from people’s concern just as the poor have, the pope said. “To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it.”
Obama thanked Pope Francis for his encyclical, but spent most of his speech praising the pope’s leadership style.
“Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example,” he said. “In these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.
“All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true and right,” the president said, but the call also gives people confidence that they need to “come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free.”
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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden
Pope’s U.S. arrival: Cheering and picture-taking in front of TV screens
By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When Pope Francis’ plane landed at Joint Andrews Base, Maryland, a group of people of all ages watching the event on TV screens at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington seemed just as enthusiastic as those on the tarmac.
With loud cheers and rapid smartphone picture-taking, the crowd welcomed the pope’s first visit to the United States and they dispersed after the brief welcoming ceremony concluded. Some joined in prayer, others walked through the monastery’s gardens. Many in the group took photos by the cutout Pope Francis and some bought food from food trucks parked along the street. The atmosphere was both prayerful and akin to a parish picnic that also happened to have a lot of television reporters in the mix.
The monastery, tucked behind a Washington neighborhood, is a mile from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis would be celebrating Mass Sept. 23. The grounds are also linked to the papal Mass because it will include the canonization of one of their own: Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan who founded nine California missions. The monastery has a relic of the soon-to-be saint.
Pat Wells, a parishioner at nearby St. Anthony Parish, who came to the watch party with friends, said she was thrilled that the pope was in the United States. She wouldn’t be attending any of the events in Washington, but she was taking the next day off work to watch it all unfold on television.
“I can’t wait to see what he says to Congress,” she added.
She also said she “wouldn’t be anywhere else” than keeping track of Pope Francis, stressing that he is a “direct successor” of St. Peter. Wells said she saw St. John Paul II and also Pope Benedict when they were in Washington.
Fernando Pereiro, who leads tours at the monastery, also was paying close attention to the pope’s arrival on the television screens. A native of Argentina, Pereiro said he rode the bus with the pope when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. The two didn’t talk on the regular city route, but he said he frequently saw the archbishop dressed in black clerical clothes.
Pereiro, who watched coverage of the announcement of Pope Francis on an Argentine TV station, said he was in tears when he heard who the new pope was.
Now, he finds it hard to believe the pope’s visit, so long anticipated, has finally arrived.
Above all, he said the pope “will bring a message of hope to all people.”
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A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/nJspYPkvWAU
Meeting reporters on plane, pope defends his teaching on social issues
By Cindy Wooden
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM CUBA (CNS) — Pope Francis defended his position on the economy, the environment and other social issues as faithful repetitions of the basic Catholic social doctrine.
Speaking to reporters flying with him from Cuba to Washington Sept. 22, the pope was asked about comments, mainly from the United States, claiming the pope is a communist and about the Newsweek headline, “Is the pope Catholic?”
“I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” he responded. “I follow the church and in this, I do not think I am wrong.”
“Maybe I have given an impression of being a little bit to the left,” the pope admitted. “But if they want me to recite the Creed, I can!”
Pope Francis said a cardinal “who is a friend” was telling him about an older Catholic lady, “a good woman, but a bit rigid,” who had questions about the description of the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation and if that was the same thing as an “anti-pope.”
“‘Why are you asking,’ the cardinal said. ‘Well, I am sure Pope Francis is the anti-pope.’
“‘Why do you say that?’
“‘Well, because he renounced the red shoes, which are so historic,'” the pope said the woman responded.
People have all sorts of reasons to think, “he’s communist or he’s not communist,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also referred to the social teaching of the church when asked about the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. The social doctrine is critical of economic embargoes, especially those that last for years, because of their impact on the poor.
But he said he did not intend to discuss the Cuban embargo in his speech to the U.S. Congress, but he would talk more in general of the importance of bilateral agreements to promote progress, peace and the common good.
“The problem of the embargo is part of the negotiations. This is public. Both presidents have said this. It is part of the journey toward good relations that is underway,” he said.
“My desire is that they end up with a good result, with an accord that satisfies both sides,” he said.
The Sept. 19-22 visit to Cuba was “a bit of a coincidence,” the pope said. He had hoped to enter the United States through Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, like so many people do. But the idea changed when Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced they had an agreement to begin normalizing their relations.
Pope Francis also was asked why he did not meet Cuban dissidents and other opponents of the Cuban opposition.
“It was very clear I was not holding private audiences in the nunciature — not even with other heads of state,” the pope said, apparently referring to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had traveled to Havana for the papal visit.
Officials at the Vatican Embassy in Havana did, however, make a telephone call to a representative of a dissident group and invited several members of the group to be among those greeted by the pope at Havana’s cathedral, he said.
“I greeted many people there, but no one identified himself as a dissident,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis was also asked about his private meeting with former Cuban President Fidel Castro and specifically if he thought Castro had “repented” of having treated the Catholic Church so harshly.
“‘Repentance’ is something intimate, having to do with the conscience,” he said.
“In my meeting with Fidel we spoke about the Jesuits he had known” as a student of a Jesuit school, the pope said, and about how hard Jesuits used to make their students work.
“And we spoke a lot about the encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’,’ because he is very interested in the theme of ecology. It was not a very formal meeting, but spontaneous, with his family there,” the pope said.
“We did not talk about the past,” he said, except for “his experience with the Jesuits.”
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Follow Wooden on Twitter @Cindy_Wooden
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