Although it had been well known for months, Pope Francis made his travel plans official this morning. The pontiff will make his first visit to the US in September 2015 at the World Meeting of Families, part of the lengthy conversation about the pastoral direction of the Catholic Church that officially began with the Extraordinary Synod last month. Rome Reports has the video of the announcement, thankfully with subtitles for the Italian-challenged, which still includes me:
When I was in Rome last month, this was already assumed to be on the calendar. Vatican officials had been talking about it openly for months, and reporters there were planning around it. The World Meeting of Families is the largest Catholic event for family life and only meets every three years, plus the connection to the synod topic would have been irresistible.
NBC reports that Philadelphia is pretty excited by the confirmation:
“I am overjoyed by Pope Francis’ announcement that he will join with us for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year,” said [Philadelphia Archbishop Charles] Chaput. “A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally. His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering.”
It will be the Pope’s first visit to the United States since he was elected to lead the Catholic church in March 2013. The last time a pope visited Philadelphia was in October 1979 when John Paul II to deliver mass along the Parkway.
The World Meeting of Families will be held from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27 in 2015 in Philadelphia. Held every three years, the World Meeting of Families is a celebration of families, love and life. It’s also the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said that Francis is expected to arrive Sept. 25. Besides the Parkway mass, the Pontiff is also expected to attend the intercultural Festival of Families on Sept. 26, according to the archdiocese. The Vatican will reveal detailed plans in spring or summer of 2015.
It will be an exciting event, but not likely one that will tip much of the hand on the direction of the Catholic Church in its review of pastoral policies. That will wait for the ordinary Synod that will take place the month after Francis’ first visit to the US. The timing for the conference in Philadelphia will stoke interest in the meeting at the Vatican that will complete the process begun last month there, but that process will be driven — at least to start — by the bishops. The Extraordinary Synod tasked them with using the final relatio as a springboard for research and introspection within the dioceses, and with gathering a best-practices list (as well as what’s not working) in order for the entire episcopate to make decisions on the improvements needed in Catholic practice as it relates to family. If the Pope has a direction in mind (a point of endless speculation at the Vatican as well as everywhere else), it won’t become obvious until October.
One point to watch on the Pope’s trip will be whether he gets to Washington or not. John Boehner formally invited Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress during that time, and as a visiting head of state, Barack Obama will almost certainly ask Francis to visit the White House as well. Obama needs to burnish his image these days — a lot, especially with Catholics, who flipped to the GOP this past election by almost double digits (54/45). There wouldn’t be any particular reason for Francis to refuse either request, but his choice of topic and emphasis in either or both venues might be very interesting indeed.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean O’Malley made waves today in an interview with CBS News about Catholic teaching on vocations and ordination. If he was starting his own religion, O’Malley tells Norah O’Donnell, he’d be happy to have women as priests. Since O’Malley serves the church that Jesus founded, though, it’s not going to happen:
In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS that producers said took more than a year for them to persuade him to do, O’Malley seemed troubled by reporter Norah O’Donnell’s question as to whether the exclusion of women from the Church hierarchy was “immoral.”
O’Malley paused, then said, “Christ would never ask us to do something immoral. It’s a matter of vocation and what God has given to us.”
“Not everyone needs to be ordained to have an important role in the life of the Church,” he said. “Women run Catholic charities, Catholic schools …. They have other very important roles. A priest can’t be a mother. The tradition in the Church is that we ordain men.
“If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests,” O’Malley said. “But Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.”
With everything else happening in the church — the interview was actually about the controversy surrounding Bishop Finn — one has to wonder why O’Donnell brought up this topic with O’Malley. Did she expect O’Malley to have anything different to say than the rest of the Catholic Church on this topic? Wasn’t there more pressing and interesting topics for O’Malley, especially given the length of time it took CBS to get him to give the interview in the first place, than another rehashing of ordination doctrine?