Pope Francis visited the United States for the first time in his life. He has spoken many times of being close to the people and has been outspoken on global issues like the environment and unbridled capitalism.
The Pope began his visit at the White House on Sept 23. In the afternoon that day, he held mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where he sainted a Jesuit priest named Junipero Serra.
Friar Serra is a controversial saint. He founded the first nine missions in California, but that is part of the controversy. Many Native Americans say that Serra was the same as all Franciscan monks in the Americas, abusing the native population and suppressing the many varied cultures. The Spanish method of spreading Catholicism was violent, requiring the native homes to be destroyed and European style ones built. The native languages were also banned, and anyone caught disobeying the laws were killed publicly. According to Deborah Miranda, a literature professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, 90% of Californian Indians were killed due to the missions in the state.
However, many Catholics say that Serra treated the native Californians with dignity. “The Pope stressed Fr. Serra’s witness to the “Joy of the Gospel” in his [mission] work,” said Corrine Winters, Director of the Masters of Pastoral Theology program at SAU. “He also described Friar Serra as striving to defend the dignity of the native people from abuses.”
For the first time in history, the Pope spoke to a joint session of Congress on Sept 24.
“Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples… We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good,” said the native Spanish-speaker. He conducted his address to Congress in English.
Pope Francis is controversial due to being more outspoken concerning the homeless and global climate change. He has in the past gone into the streets of Rome to help other priests of that city care for the homeless.
The next day Francis addressed the United Nations in New York City, calling for protecting the environment, saying it is a “fundamental good.” He also spoke out for protecting life at all stages of development, ending homelessness, and education for all – including girls.
The Pope visited the US for the main purpose of serving as a pastor at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “The World Meeting of families is a gathering started in 1994 by Pope John Paul II to encourage and strengthen families,” Winters said. He went off script for his address on Saturday, “Families have the difficulties, families fight, sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother-in-laws. With families, there is always light. … The family is like a factory of hope, a factory of Resurrection,” he said.
He also delivered a Mass on his last day in the US, once again speaking about the necessity of families and how small gestures of love are often the most appreciated.
It was recently revealed after the Pope returned to Rome that he had a secret meeting with Kim Davis, the controversial county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Vatican at first denied the meeting took place, but then affirmed it on Sept. 30. According to Davis’ lawyer, Kim and her husband Joe were sneaked into the Embassy, where the Pope told Mrs. Davis to “stay strong” after giving her rosaries.
This information comes as a surprise because the LGBT+ Catholic community has supported the Pope due to his statement of, “Who am I to judge?” when speaking of same-sex marriage. It has been suggested that the visit with Mrs. Davis was about conscientious objection rather than approval of her actions.
In a tweet he posted shortly after arriving in Rome, he said “With my heartfelt thanks. May the love of Christ always guide the American people! #GodBlessAmerica.”
Editors Note: It was just revealed that, perhaps in a move to counteract his visit with Mrs. Davis, the Pope also had a private audience with an Argentinian friend. This friend, Yayo Grassi, brought his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bragus, to the Vatican Embassy to meet with Pope Francis.
Contributed by Anna Headley, Guest Reporter