Pope in US to meet with homeless, prisoners and immigrants
VATICAN CITY (AP) — 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.
U.S. Catholic bishops have for years decried what they say are attacks on religious liberty, particularly over national health care laws that require insurance coverage for contraception.
The bishops' latest rallying cry has come in the wake of the Supreme Court decision declaring that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.
While the decision does not compel any clergy — Catholic or otherwise — to marry gay couples, there are concerns that the massive network of faith-based charities, hospitals and schools in the U.S., many of which accept some government funding, will be forced to recognize same-sex couples by providing benefits to same-sex spouses or placing adoptive children with gay couples.
While Francis has fiercely upheld church teaching that marriage is between a man and woman, he and the Vatican as a whole tend to consider religious liberty in more global terms, with Christians being slaughtered for their faith across the Middle East and parts of Africa by Islamic militants.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he reminded Americans that religious freedom issues in the United States are not the same as religious freedom issues around the globe," said Christopher Bellitto, an expert on church history at Kean University in New Jersey.
Francis will visit prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia before celebrating the final Mass of the family meeting on Sept. 27, a celebration expected to draw some 1.5 million people in what is expected to be his largest gathering on U.S. soil.
The Pope's U.S. Visit Schedule
source: US Conference of Catholic Bishops
Saturday, Sept. 19 (Rome, Havana)
-- 10:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. EDT), Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport for Havana.
-- 4:05 p.m. Arrival ceremony at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. Speech by pope.
Sunday, Sept. 20 (Havana)
-- 9 a.m. Mass in Havana's Revolution Square. Homily by pope. Recitation of the Angelus.
-- 4 p.m. Courtesy visit with Cuba's President Raul Castro in Havana's Palace of the Revolution.
-- 5:15 p.m. Celebration of vespers with priests, religious and seminarians in Havana's cathedral. Homily by pope.
-- 6:30 p.m. Greeting to young people at the Father Felix Varela cultural center in Havana. Remarks by pope.
Monday, Sept. 21 (Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, El Cobre)
-- 8 a.m. Departure by air for Holguin, Cuba.
-- 9:20 a.m. Arrival at Holguin's Frank Pais International Airport.
-- 10:30 a.m. Mass in Holguin's Revolution Square. Homily by pope.
-- 3:45 p.m. Blessing of the city of Holguin from Cross Hill (Loma de la Cruz).
-- 4:40 p.m. Departure by air for Santiago de Cuba.
-- 5:30 p.m. Arrival at Santiago de Cuba's Antonio Maceo International Airport.
-- 7 p.m. Meeting with bishops at the seminary of St. Basil the Great in El Cobre.
-- 7:45 p.m. Prayer to Our Lady of Charity with bishops and the papal entourage in the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.
Tuesday, Sept. 22 (El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba, Washington)
-- 8 a.m. Mass in the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. Homily by pope.
-- 11 a.m. Meeting with families in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption in Santiago de Cuba. Speech by pope. Blessing of the city from the outside of the cathedral.
-- 12:15 p.m. Farewell ceremony at Santiago de Cuba's International Airport.
-- 12:30 p.m. Departure for Washington.
-- 4 p.m. Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. Official welcome.
Wednesday, Sept. 23 (Washington)
-- 9:15 a.m. Welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Speech by pope, followed by a courtesy visit with Obama.
-- 11:30 a.m. Meeting with U.S. bishops in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Speech by pope.
-- 4:15 p.m. Mass and canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Homily by pope.
Thursday, Sept. 24 (Washington, New York)
-- 9:20 a.m. Visit to the U.S. Congress. Speech by pope.
-- 11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick's Catholic Church and meeting with homeless people. Greeting by pope.
-- 4 p.m. Departure by air to New York.
-- 5 p.m. Arrival at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
-- 6:45 p.m. Celebration of vespers with priests, men and women religious in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Homily by pope.
Friday, Sept. 25 (New York)
-- 8:30 a.m. Visit the headquarters of the United Nations. Greeting and speech by pope.
-- 11:30 a.m. Interreligious meeting at the ground zero 9/11 Memorial. Speech by pope.
-- 4 p.m. Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Elementary School in East Harlem and meeting with children and immigrant families. Speech by pope.
-- 6 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden. Homily by pope.
Saturday, Sept. 26 (New York, Philadelphia)
-- 8:40 a.m. Departure by air to Philadelphia.
-- 9:30 a.m. Arrival at Philadelphia's International Airport.
-- 10:30 a.m. Mass with Pennsylvania's bishops, priests, men and women religious at Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Homily by pope.
-- 4:45 p.m. Meeting for religious liberty with the Hispanic community and immigrants at Philadelphia's Independence Mall. Speech by pope.
-- 7:30 p.m. Festival of Families and prayer vigil at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Speech by pope.
Sunday, Sept. 27 (Philadelphia)
-- 9:15 a.m. Meeting with bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Speech by pope.
-- 11 a.m. Visit with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Speech by pope.
-- 4 p.m. Closing Mass of the VIII World Meeting of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Homily by pope.
-- 7 p.m. Greeting to the organizing committee, volunteers and donors at Philadelphia's International Airport. Speech by pope.
-- 7:45 p.m. Farewell ceremony.
-- 8 p.m. Departure for Rome.
Monday, Sept. 28 (Rome)
-- 10 a.m. (4:45 a.m. EDT). Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.
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