How The U.S. Is Prepping For The Pope's Big Visit

Sep 13, 2015
Originally published on October 20, 2015 5:42 am
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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Local authorities and church leaders in Washington, New York and Philadelphia are gearing up for a visit next week by Pope Francis. It's this pope's first visit to the U.S. I asked NPR's religion correspondent Tom Gjelten what issues he expects the pope to address.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: I think we can expect him to say some bold things about immigration, Arun. It's an issue important both to the U.S. Catholic Church because it's increasing dependent on immigrant members; also to Francis personally as the first pope from Latin America. And if he talks about immigration, it'll come in Philadelphia where he'll be meeting with immigrant families. The archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, spoke out a couple of weeks ago on immigration issues, even denouncing Donald Trump by name over his immigration views. And in that speech, the archbishop quoted the pope's criticism of wealthy nations for being indifferent toward migrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT: This indifference ignores the pain of those seeking to migrate and treats immigrants as a part of a throwaway culture. Pope Francis will likely return to that message when he visits Philadelphia.

RATH: And you mentioned this focus on poverty - the popes focus on poverty. How would his interest in migrants relate to that?

GJELTEN: I think he's likely, in talking about immigrants, to reach out to the poorest and most marginalized among them. We spoke with one woman in Philadelphia, Teresa Herrera. She and her husband are from Mexico. They've been living in this country undocumented for more than 20 years. She told us, in Spanish, that she sees the Pope acting the way Jesus did with the poor. We've got a translation.

TERESA HERRERA: (Through interpreter) The pope is doing what Jesus did. He visits people in their neighborhoods, the poorest. And the fact that he is Latino fills me with hope that someday our situation and the reality we live with will change.

RATH: Now, Tom, immigration is only one of the hot-button issues that this pope has been talking boldly about. He's talked about climate change. He has a more tolerant tone on gays and lesbians, saying he's not inclined to judge them. So he's touched on a number of issues that are very much part of the political debate in this country; very contentious stuff. Can we expect his visit here to get political?

GJELTEN: Well, you know, Arun, he's never been shy about getting into debates. He's from Argentina, and he was archbishop there during a very difficult time in that country's history; a time when there was a lot of controversy. He's not someone who's been in awe of the United States. It'll be the first trip he's ever taken here. He's 78 years old. I don't think he'll be shy about stepping on some toes.

RATH: Is he likely to run into any resistance anywhere, maybe from people who don't agree with some of his stronger positions?

GJELTEN: The biggest controversy right now with respect to the Catholic Church is sexual abuse of young people by priests and the cover-up of that behavior by some of the bishops. I've been talking with some survivors of abuse. Many are still feeling rather embittered. Pope Francis has said he won't tolerate abusive priests, but survivors aren't yet convinced that things have changed. I spoke with one woman, Becky Ianni, who was herself abused by her priest when she was a little girl. She now works with other survivors of abuse. She told me that her survivors' group will be very active during the pope's visit, reaching out to other abuse victims.

BECKY IANNI: When the pope comes, we want victims out there to know that there's places they can come because the pope is going to stir up a lot of emotions with victims everywhere. And so I think we want to have a presence there so, you know, survivors out there know they can call us because it's going to be a rough time for people.

RATH: When she's talking about the pope's visit stirring up difficult emotions for survivors, what does she mean?

GJELTEN: These are people who, in many cases, were once very close to the church, close to their priests. And now, they're feeling alienated from them, and that's hard. They're going to see this love fest around the pope. It could just reinforce their own feelings of loss and separation from the church.

RATH: That's NPR's religion correspondent Tom Gjelten. Tom, thank you.

GJELTEN: You bet, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.