At the first canonization mass to be celebrated on US soil, Pope Francis called the Church “to go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.” He said that “The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet.”
Thursday morning, he will become the first pope to address a joint session of Congress. At the White House Wednesday, he said he will offer a gift of service to his legislative hosts, saying he “will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles.”
Already, he has been offering words of encouragement to the pro-family and pro-life communities here in the United States. At Washington, D.C.’s titular church, he said that “I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.” And, he said that he is “conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.”
But, the pope intends to do much more than offer encouraging words and sermonize on the theme of Christian service. He himself wants to head out into the world and effect real change for the common good. That’s the reason he is visiting the United States this week.
Indeed, he is communicating his supporting words through action, as well. Earlier today, Pope Francis responded to his own call to Christian service, a theme he also took up in Cuba during his meeting with religious women and men.
Following the day’s events, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, spoke with journalists, informing them that Pope Francis has already made a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
According to tweeted messages from EWTN Rome Bureau Chief Alan Holdren and the similar words from National Catholic Reporter’s Rome Correspondent Joshua McElwee, who are traveling with Pope Francis, the Holy Father visited the congregation of women religious that has been battling the Obama administration’s draconian mandate to provide CASC services (i.e., counseling, abortion, sterilization, and contraception) to its insured employees. Lombardi confirmed that the visit to the sisters was related to their on-going battle for religious liberty.
The meeting was intimate and fraternal, but evidenced the pope’s commitment to the themes he addressed at both the White House and St. Matthew’s Cathedral where he sounded like Pope Benedict XVI and looked like Pope St. John Paul II.
As he stepped out of his simple Fiat at the start of his welcoming ceremony on the south lawn of the executive residence, he appeared charismatic and energetic. The scene invited comparisons with John Paul’s first visit to the White House back in 1979. As he addressed his hearers in clear English on the themes of religious liberty and integral development, he sounded like Pope Benedict XVI, the professor pope who authored Caritas in Veritate.
But, if the pope appeared in continuity with his predecessors, he also signaled a new direction for his own pontificate. Ahead of his arrival at Joint Base Andrews yesterday, the Director of the Holy See Press Office suggested that more than the volo papale would be circling before landing.
In fact, Pope Francis himself evidenced a fresh direction for his papal mission. At the Archdiocese of Washington’s titular church, he circled back to foundational Catholic themes, including the role of the bishop of Rome, the relationship between the universal and particular churches, and traditional marriage and the family as foundations for a well ordered society. At the same time, he told his brother bishops that he was not coming among them in order to judge or lecture them, but to journey with them and to renew his fraternal love for them.
Addressing his hearers in Italian, he previewed a bold course for the remainder of his first tour of the US, telling his brother bishops that at “the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church” the Gospel of the Family.
Thursday morning, Pope Francis will make history when he steps onto the floor of the US Congress, an appearance that is slated for 9:20 am ET. But, Italian Vaticanista Andrea Gagliarducci has been hearing rumors that the Pope may stop off at Washington’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Clearly, the theme of religious liberty as a civil right is weighing on his mind, especially as the pontiff gears up for his encounter with the World Meeting of Families.
Might we hope he will speak his mind on these pressing topics tomorrow morning from the floor of the US Congress? Time will tell.
Photo credit: The Becket Fund