By Tania Rego/ABr (Agência Brasil) [CC BY 3.0 br], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tania Rego/ABr (Agência Brasil) [CC BY 3.0 br], via Wikimedia Commons

Highlights of Pope Francis’ whirlwind U.S. Visit.

Pope Francis’ 6-day visit to the United States is certainly a historic one not only because it’s the first U.S. visit for the pontiff. It’s also because of the rare opportunity to express his ideas and concerns to the superpower nation, to the most powerful man on earth, to the influential U.S. Congress, and the rest of the world through the U.N. General Assembly.

More than his visits or appearances, people were most excited to hear the Pope’s messages. And as expected, the pontiff did not hesitate to discuss with Americans and politicians issues that are deemed controversial. The Pope talked about family, religious freedom, equal rights and opportunity, environment and climate change, global conflict, the poor, victims of sexual abuses and his stance on abortion. Many critics say that most of the Pope’s appeal and messages are not likely to affect political decisions in the U.S., but certainly it’s a worthy and noble effort.

The Pope arrived in the U.S. after his Cuba visit on September 22 but his activity started the next day for the official welcome ceremony at the White House. In his first speech at the White House, the Pope tackled poverty and immigration citing that he also came from a migrant family. He shortly discussed climate change and stressed that “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”

After a short meeting with President Obama, Pope Francis made his public appearance around the National Mall before proceeding to the Cathedral of St. Matthew for a midday prayer service. In the afternoon of September 23, the pontiff headed the Canonization Mass for Rev. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On September 24, Pope Francis addressed the Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol. The event is historic making Francis the first pontiff to address the law-making body of the country. In his speech at the Congress, the Pope urged everyone to fight ideological fundamentalisms which often leads to violence and the hampering of others rights whether religious, economic or intellectual freedom.

The Pope urged the U.S. law makers to stop the global arms trade simply because of money or profit. He discussed immigration and pointed that immigrants should be factored in as humans and not merely part of statistics. In his speech, Pope Francis said that “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

On the issue of abortion which has once again become a hot topic because of the recent attack on Planned Parenthood, the Pope delivered a strong message: “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

After his speech at Congress, the Pope met with the poor and blessed a dinner event organized by Catholic Charities.

The Pope arrived in New York in the afternoon of the 24th and in the evening he headed an event at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. In his message, the Pope highlighted the plight of the underprivileged people who often are not noticed because of the busy city life.

The next day on September 25, the Pope addressed the U.N. General Assembly which is celebrating the 70th year since its founding. He invited world leaders to be more affectionate to the victims of conflicts or wars, the provision of equal opportunity as a solution to poverty, and urged the world leaders to protect the environment.

After his speech at the U.N., Pope Francis visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum where a multi-religious service was held. The Pope visited a local school and the East Harlem neighborhood in New York. Before the day ended, the Pope has a motorcade around Madison Square Garden and eventually held a Mass in the evening.

The Pope’s final activities were in Philadelphia. On September 26, he attended the Festival of Families and also visited and spoke at Independence Hall. At the Festival, he stressed the value of the family: “In families there is always light… I have to say that family is like a factory of hope. It’s a factory of resurrection.” Additionally, he talked about religious freedom at Independence Hall.

On his final day in the U.S., September 27, the Pope visited and mingled with prisoners of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. The pontiff also addressed the Catholic organization or clergy at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. The Pope tackled one of the most controversial subjects affecting the Catholic Church, namely the provision of justice to victims of sexual abuses within the church. He also asked for forgiveness from the victims who suffered and were not given the right treatment after exposing their stories. The Pope ended his U.S. trip with a huge Sunday Mass for the World Meeting of Families.

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