Reporter's Notebook

Pope Francis's Visit to the U.S.
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For the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. at the end of September. He’s coming for the World Meeting of the Families in Philadelphia but will also make stops in Cuba, D.C., and New York. Scroll down to see our coverage.
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A Pope in an American Prison

Emma Green / The Atlantic

In the Bible, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. At his visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on Sunday, Pope Francis used this parable to talk about the mercy of God. “All of us need our feet washed,” he said, “and me in first place.”

The pope spoke in Spanish to inmates, their families, members of the press, and Philly officials for about 15 minutes, and then he walked around and shook hands with each of the inmates individually. He paused longer with some than others, but he never seemed hurried.

Francis’s trip to the United States has been part politics, part photo-op, and part Catholic pep rally. But insofar as his visit is missionary, this was the stop that mattered. His words on Sunday were urgent, encouraging prisoners to embrace his God and savior. And it matters for another reason: Mass incarceration is arguably the country’s worst policy and humanitarian failure. I’ll have more on this visit in the coming days; stay tuned.

Mark Makela / Reuters

Never accuse the bishop of Rome of failing to close with a bang. On Sunday, the Vatican announced that the pope had a private meeting with five victims sexual-abuse, either at the hands of clergy, teachers, or family members. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm,” he told an audience of bishops. “God weeps.” There was some controversy, though, over the way he phrased this culpability to Church leaders; some victims were distraught that he praised bishops for their “courage” in handling this scandal, The New York Times reports.

Other things from today: a giant mass on a giant parkway, filled with typical Francis moves.

He visited a prison, which I think is the most important visit of his trip—more from me on that soon. And before he took off, he had a private meeting with Joe Biden. We all know what happened last time he met with a political figure at a turning point in his career … Anything you feel moved to share, Mr. Vice President?

At 7:39 pm EST, Pope Francis’s plane took off from Philadelphia International Airport. We won’t know the full fall-out from this trip for a while, but if you’re hooked on Vatican happenings, never fear: In many ways, the real show hasn’t started yet. In just a few days, the bishops will gather in Rome for a synod, where Church leaders will talk about marriage, divorce, and other totally non-controversial Catholic things. I would say stay tuned, but I need some sleep before I can make any promises. Until the next papal visit …

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Pope Francis may have left the U.S., but the fall-out of his trip is just beginning. I have a long story up today on his Sunday visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. There’s one piece of it that I thought was specifically worth highlighting here:

But some kinds of inmates weren’t there at the pope visit. The warden, Michele Farrell, said people with disciplinary problems were excluded, as were those who are mentally ill. And for whatever reason, a number of prisoners simply declined the invitation.

From a logistical and security point of view, the choice to exclude the mentally ill and the “badly behaved” is totally understandable; it would have been awful for something to happen to the pope. But Francis constantly speaks about the “culture of exclusion” that keeps people like the poor, the disabled, and the elderly marginalized. The people Francis always wants to see most are those who don’t fit the mold of being healthy and well-behaved. And perhaps the inmates who most needed to see Francis are those who struggle in the most acute ways with their lives in prison.

In 1983, John Paul II went to see Alì Agca in the Rebibbia prison in Rome. Two years earlier, Agca had shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square, which almost killed him. The two men sat in a cell together and talked. If a pope can sit alone with his would-be assassin, he can almost certainly shake hands with less-than-perfect inmates in a gymnasium filled with correctional officers. (I counted at least 31 in in the room at one point.)