Exclusive: Details of the proposal for Pope Francis' US visit revealed

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square before the Wed. general audience on April 16, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square before the Wed. general audience on April 16, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

.- Archbishop Bernardito Auza – a member of the organizing committee for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. – has revealed details of the proposed schedule, which includes visits to three cities.

“He would arrive on the 22nd and he would leave the evening of the 27th. It’s really a full six days, plus the travel, so it’s really one week,” Archbishop Auza told CNA in Manila on Jan. 18.

A Philippines native, Archbishop Auza is the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. in New York and to the Organization of American States in Washington. He is back in his homeland this week participating in the events of Pope Francis’ Jan. 15-19 apostolic journey.

The archbishop spoke of a meeting held last Monday by the U.S. trip’s organizing committee appointed by Pope Francis, during which the details of the visit were discussed.

After a projected arrival to Washington, D.C. on the evening of Sept. 22, they’re proposing that Pope Francis visit the White House the following morning, where the official welcoming ceremony would take place.

Following his stop at the White House, the pontiff would go on to celebrate Mass at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Mass, the archbishop observed, would be primarily for bishops, consecrated and religious men and women, seminarians and representatives from humanitarian and Catholic charitable organizations.

“And we might say really the highlight of the Washington visit might be his speech to the joint-meeting of Congress, so the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Archbishop Auza said. According to the proposal, Pope Francis would leave for New York City on the afternoon of the 24th.

The U.N. general-assembly would be his destination on the morning of the 25th, which is also the opening of the 3-day Post-2015 Sustainable Development Summit.

“Practically all of the heads of states and governments will be around and they will all be there on that day, so if the Pope were to finalize this visit to the U.S. that means that he would address all the heads of states and of governments, who will be sitting with their official delegations,” the archbishop explained.

“We certainly are looking forward to that,” he said, noting how everyone involved is anticipating what the Pope might say, particularly U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who is “extremely thrilled.”

The papal address at the U.N. would take up the entire morning of Sept. 25, Archbishop Auza said. He added that proposals for what the pontiff may do afterward include an interreligious meeting, and “of course the Pope will visit St. Patrick’s (Cathedral). That’s for sure.”

The visit to the historic church wouldn’t likely mean the celebration of Mass there, the archbishop said. Mass has been proposed instead for another area of New York. He named the Madison Square Garden as a possibility.

“Our plan is not to have a huge Mass outside of Philadelphia, because the focus will really be Philadelphia, because the Pope is going to the United States for the World Meeting of Families,” he explained.

Perhaps the most “unique ingredient” of Pope Francis’ proposed schedule for New York would be an interethnic meeting with the pontiff, which is significant given the diverse ethnic background of the city.

“Ground Zero,” the site of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, which brought down New York City’s twin World Trade Center towers, is another foreseeable stop on the Pope’s itinerary, Archbishop Auza noted.

Benedict XVI visited the site during his 2008 visit, but the Archbishop mentioned that since then the official memorial has been inaugurated, the museum has been finished, and the metal cross found in the wreckage of the towers is there.

“But these are just proposals. At the end of February there will be the first organizational visit (from a Vatican delegation), and then we will see what we could really fill in,” the archbishop said.

Pope Francis could spend a couple of nights in New York, but “it depends” on what else comes up.

From New York the Roman Pontiff would head to Philadelphia in the early morning of the 26th as his last stop, where he is set to participate in the World Meeting of Families from Sept. 26-27.

“Philadelphia is confirmed. That’s for sure,” the archbishop observed, explaining that the two big events set to take place with the Pope are a prayer vigil on the 26th and Mass Sunday, the 27th.

There is also an encounter planned with grandparents and children, however the archbishop said he does not know whether or not the Pope will participate.

Pope Francis himself confirmed his presence at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia during the Nov. 17-19 Humanum Conference in Rome, saying that he will attend “if God wills it.”

Besides the encounter with families, Archbishop Auza said that the Philadelphia visit will likely include “a visit either to a children’s hospital or a juvenile prison.”

Members of the organizational committee for the visit, he said, include himself; papal nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, secretary-general at the bishops’ conference, as well as a team of various secretaries and assistants.

On his Jan. 15 flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, Pope Francis also made the surprise announcement that he would canonize the founder of California’s first missions, Blessed Junipero Serra.

When asked whether or not the Pope’s itinerary for his U.S. trip would include a visit to California for the canonization, Archbishop Auza said that although it would be the ideal place, the state will most likely not be on the agenda.

“I think he may do that in Washington,” he said, noting how there is a statue of Bl. Serra in the National Statuary Hall of the Capitol building, honoring him as one of the founders of California.

The pontiff would most likely preside over “what they call a brief canonization, not the formal solemn canonization,” he said.

On a final note, Archbishop Auza spoke of the possibility that the Pope would go to Mexico as part of his trip to the U.S., saying that “they might skip Mexico this time because it becomes a very, very long (trip).”

The pontiff might make another visit to Latin America, the archbishop noted, although he did not know when that would be.

“So that’s more or less the plan. It’s a plan, we’ll see how it will pan out.”

In addition to being Catholic News Agency's Rome bureau chief, Alan Holdren is also the Rome correspondent for EWTN News Nightly.

UPDATED on Jan. 19, 2015 at 11:29 a.m. MST:

Archdiocese of Philadelphia director of communications Kenneth Gavin clarified that Pope Francis' official schedule during his trip to the U.S. in September has yet to be finalized.

"We are overjoyed that Pope Francis will be with us in September, and planning for his visit is intensely underway," he told CNA. "However, no final decisions regarding the Papal itinerary for Philadelphia have yet been made."

"Certainly, we are exploring a wide variety of potential scenarios and there are numerous factors and contingencies to consider," Gavin noted, adding that final confirmation of the Pope's Philadelphia schedule "can come only after consultation with the Papal household."

Tags: United States, Pope Francis, Pope in Philippines


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