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.
Poor, sleepy Francis. On Saturday, after a long day in Philadelphia, the organizers of the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s visit in Philadelphia put on a long concert / performance of family values, including testimony from a young engaged couple, the prayers of several grandparents, and a rendition of “How to Save a Life” by The Fray.
Remember The Fray? Francis doesn’t either.
The pope also showed off his comedic talent; in addition to making a joke about mothers-in-law, he ended a totally ad-libbed speech about the gospels and the family with the question, “What time is mass?” Har har, pope, har har.
Earlier that day, Francis defended religious liberty in front of Independence Hall, likely to the satisfaction of the more conservative bishops in attendance. He also celebrated mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where Philadelphia’s archbishop, Charles Chaput, made a bid to show that he is Francis’s number-one fan: “This is a city that would change its name to ‘Francisville’ today if we could do that without inconveniencing the rest of North America,” he said.
On Sunday, Francis will meet with bishops, visit a prison, and celebrate mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is expected to attract a quarter of a million people. The end of this visit is nigh; stay tuned.
On Friday, the pope took on the world: In an address before the United Nations, Francis spoke about the urgent need to care for the environment and the people who live in it. A lot of what he said echoed the encyclical he wrote in June, Laudato Si, which also made a strong case about the failure of international institutions.
Then we found out that the pope’s got a squad, complete with an imam, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and more. Their collective enemy? Religious extremism. At a memorial ceremony for 9/11, the Pope showed just how far the Catholic Church has come on pluralistic engagement.
Lest Justin Bieber ever starts getting cocky about his fandom, he should have seen Francis’s visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem. As he approached, one girl screamed, “It’s the pope! I’m going to cry.” And where teenagers abounded, selfies did much more abound.
Tomorrow, to Philly, which will include two masses, a visit to Independence Mall, a visit to a prison, and a quarter of a million people gathered on a parkway. More soon.
The Irish Catholic son of a barkeep hosted Pope Francis in the first-ever address by a pontiff to Congress. And it seemed the pope’s message had at least some impact on the timing of the speaker’s decision.
Boehner said he had originally wanted to announce on November 17—his 66th birthday—that he would step down at the end of the year. But the conservative threat to depose him moved up the timetable, and when he woke up Friday on the morning after meeting the pope, he said to himself, “Today is the day I’m going to do this.”
He resisted, however, the notion that conservatives had forced his hand. “I can tell you, if I wasn’t planning on leaving here soon, I would not have done this,” Boehner said. The famously-emotional speaker broke down several times during his 15-minute news conference, most notably when he recounted a private moment he shared with Pope Francis. As they were leaving the Capitol on Thursday, the pontiff took the speaker aside and asked him to pray for him. “Who am I to pray for the pope,” a deeply-humbled Boehner told reporters. “But I did.”
A lot of folks have been asking whether Francis’s trip to the U.S., and particularly D.C., will have any political effects. Aside from John Boehner’s moment of clarity, it seems like the pope is being processed through politics as usual. Democratic presidential nominees have tried to glom on to his comments about climate change, poverty, and immigration. Congress started considering environmental legislation right after Francis’s speech, and as Russell wrote on Thursday, the process became gridlocked immediately. The holy father might be able to revive ailing infrastructure, but perhaps Washington is too far gone.
At the very least, kleptomaniac politicians enjoyed the visit. Philly News reports that Representative Bob Brady stole the pope’s drinking glass, water still in it, from the rostrum in the House chamber. He, his wife, and two staffers drank from it; Senator Bob Casey, his wife, and his mother dipped their fingers into it; and the rest will be used to “bless” Brady’s grandkids.
“Anything the pope touches becomes blessed,” Brady told the Post. “I think so and no one is going to change my mind.” In 2008, Brady also nabbed the glass Obama used at his inauguration, the Post reports.
A photo posted by Angela R. Washington (@theangelafactor) on
Thursday was a big day for the pope, but maybe an even bigger day for John Boehner: The House speaker cried his way through Francis’s speech before Congress and his greeting on the west lawn of the Capitol. This was the first time a pope has ever addressed the United States Congress, and the pope used the opportunity to discuss immigration, war, poverty, the death penalty, and the importance of family. A few political elders appeared to doze during the speech; others strained forward with frowns, trying to understand the pontiff’s somewhat labored English.
As all this was happening, Molly and I had a little debate—Pope Francis: Democrat or nah? She argues that he has elevated issues that are particularly dear to American Democrats. I argued back that his worldview is much more coherent than most in American politics, defying the left/right U.S. political spectrum. Furthermore, it flows out of the gospel, not ideology.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis will spend the day in New York City, addressing the United Nations, visiting the 9/11 memorial, seeing some schoolkids in Harlem, and celebrating mass in Madison Square Garden. We’ll be following the papal trail; check back on this thread for updates. Meanwhile, the Vatican sleeps:
Molly has a piece up this morning pushing back on my argument that Pope Francis is not a ‘progressive’—he’s a priest. “Religion writers never tire of reminding us that, as revolutionary as Francis may appear, he actually believes the same things as previous popes,” she writes. (True: still not tired.) “But what makes Francis different is really a matter of which Catholic beliefs he has elevated to the level of communal concerns—public policy—and which he has framed as individual choices.”
She makes a persuasive argument: Francis has taken on issues that matter to U.S. Democrats, like climate change and immigration; he has pushed for government action on these issues, in both his writings and his speeches; and Republicans fear him, sometimes even using the “priest, not politician” line to put him down.
These facts may be true, but they still miss the broader point. In his speech to Congress today, Francis put forth a challenge to Republicans and Democrats alike, speaking on immigration, the environment, war, traditional families, and more. As I wrote in my article on the speech:
In a room where almost all Democrats voted to authorize the Iraq war more than a decade ago, it’s hard for politicians of any party to take credit for authentically ending global war. In a country which continues to be a leader in carbon emissions, it’s hard for anyone to claim leadership on climate issues.
I have a personal policy of never Francisplaining to others, (a) because I’m Jewish and (b) because that’s the single fastest way to end up looking like a dummie on the topic of this unpredictable and strong-willed pope. So instead, consider these ecumenical-ish thoughts:
The first thing to note is that Francis’s worldview is one with continuity. There’s a reason that, in his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, he criticizes international-development organizations for using birth control as a panacea to issues like hunger and extreme poverty. The topics Americans call “social issues”—birth control, abortion, sexuality—are intimately connected, in the teachings of both Francis and the Church, to economics and politics. One of the phrases Francis repeatedly uses is “throwaway culture,” and this includes a lack of appreciation for marriage, widespread abortion, and use of birth control. “A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life,” he said in September about the sin of abortion.
Contrary to Molly’s argument, Francis does believe this is a concern for governing institutions—they are “communal concerns,” or public policy, as she puts it. The whole reason Francis is in the United States is for the World Meeting of Families, which is all about traditional marriage, the welfare of children, the importance of life-giving. And the topic of that synod Molly mentioned at the end of her article? Marriage, divorce, sex, and family.
In the encyclical he co-authored with Benedict XVI, Lumen Fidei, he writes that marriage and family are the root structures from which community improvement flows. “I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage,” he writes. “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life.”
Granted, the pope and his confidants have been critical of clergy who focus narrowly on issues like birth control and abortion. For example: In an interview in 2013, the pope criticized bishops for being “obsessed” with gay marriage, abortion, and birth control. And yet, on Wednesday, the pope made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are suing the government over the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act. As I wrote in July, these are the poster-sisters of right-wing religious-freedom advocacy in the United States; the pope is showing solidarity with a fight against the government on birth control.
Molly writes that “priests can and do have ideologies.” Above all, Francis hates ideology. “In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness,” he said during a mass in 2013. “Ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: He is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought.”
As our colleague David writes, Francis’s words and actions will almost certainly have political ramifications, including his speech to Congress on Thursday. That does not make Francis a politician, and it definitely doesn’t make him a Democrat. As political writers never tire of telling us, the American political system is broken. Why try to punish the pope by twisting him into its forms?
During the pope’s visit, he has met with the president, will address Congress, and will speak to the UN. But some of his most important meetings may be unscheduled. Crux reports that on Wednesday, Francis met with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged the so-called contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
In July, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the opt-out designed by the administration—basically, a short form that certifies that a group has a religious objection to providing insurance coverage for birth control—does not represent a burden on the sisters’ religious exercise. But earlier this month, the Circuit Courts split on this question, meaning that the Little Sisters’ case, or one similar to it, may be headed for the Supreme Court.
The stop was not on the pope’s public agenda, but Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesperson, briefed reporters on the visit on Wednesday evening. He said “the visit was ‘connected’ to the pope’s remarks delivered earlier that day, in which the pope praised U.S. bishops for their efforts in defending religious liberty ‘from everything that would threaten or compromise it,’” Crux reports.
I pedaled my bike to work this morning through the largest security operation ever mobilized for a single person. Pope Francis’s visit is a National Special Security Event, a designation otherwise reserved for summits held by the UN, NATO, the WTO, the IMF, presidential inaugurations and funerals, State of the Union addresses, Olympic games, and Super Bowl XXXVI. Even by those standards, the pope’s five-day tour of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia has mobilized coordination, counterterrorism, crowd management, crisis response, and traffic control (land, sea, and air) on a scale that is, in U.S. history, unexampled.
I read the warnings last week, imagining hordes, sirens, riot gear, choppers whapping overhead. Instead it was like the morning after snowfall.
A few police leaned against their cars, red and blue lights strobing, muted. My ride is usually high-strung, with drivers yelling at me, and me yelling at crosswalkers, white-knuckled, sweating through my shirt. But west of the Capitol there was scarcely a car on the road. Traffic lights blinked uselessly. I let my bike swerve between the lanes.
The silence was buttery. My commute took on unexpected significance and intensity. I countenanced the inaudible. The matrix of signals broadcast from radios, microphones, and video cameras, language beneath language, zipping through the air. And (go with me) something cosmic, too. Silence as contrast to what we are.
The business of Washington is so blaring. The motorcades and fanfare, everything deliberated and repeated by everyone all the time. Does silence require a visit from the Pope? Perhaps at some level on guard against romanticizing the Holy Father, I recalled reading that outside Independence Hall, the founders had the entire street covered with earth so they could hear themselves think.
Since Francis’ introduction of a reproduction of [a painting called “Mary, Untier of Knots”] in Buenos Aires, it has grown in popularity in South America, with the faithful praying in front of it for Mary to “untie the knots” in their own lives. What strikes me about it is how undoing knots conveys a way of being in the world. It begins with a recognition that life isn’t easy, that a smooth and linear path is rarely given to us, that challenges keep presenting themselves. It is not so much the overcoming of these challenges that defines us, but the manner in which we tackle them.
It’s possible to get extremely frustrated by knots, after all, as I remember each time I retrieve a set of iPhone earbuds from the black hole of a coat pocket.
Your first thought is just anger: how on earth did this get so fucking tangled up? Your second impulse is to grab it and shake it or even to pull on it to resolve the issue in one stroke. But that only makes things worse. The knots get even tighter. In the end, you realize your only real option – against almost every fiber in your irate being – is to take each knot in turn, patiently and gently undo it, loosen a little, see what happens, and move on to the next. You will never know exactly when all the knots will resolve themselves – it can happen quite quickly after a while or seemingly never. But you do know that patience, and concern with the here and now, is the only way to “solve” the “problem.” You don’t look forward with a plan; you look down with a practice.
This has a relationship with the concept of “discernment” that is integral to Francis’ spiritual life, as it is to any Jesuit’s. A Christian life is about patience, about the present and about trust that God is there for us. It does not seek certainty or finality to life’s endless ordeals and puzzles. It seeks through prayer and action in the world to listen to God’s plan and follow its always-unfolding intimations.
Read the rest here. For more religious reflections from Andrew, check out this podcast he did with Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and this one he did with Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. If you have any of your own reflections on Francis or religion in general, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post them.
Yesterday, my colleague Emma wrote wisely about the dangers of viewing Pope Francis through a partisan American political lens. Yet even if the bishop of Rome isn’t a politician, any speech he delivers on the White House lawn, with President Obama by his side and dozens of members of Congress in attendance, is bound to have political repercussions.
Partisans on both sides were hoping for something to bolster their causes, and in short remarks, delivered in careful, slow English, Francis offered something for everyone.
So Francis tosses one to conservatives with religious liberties and one to liberals with climate change, huh?
With countless other people of good will, [American Catholics] are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
Then, rather more to the left’s delight, Francis spoke at some length about climate change. “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” he said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” He linked that to income inequality:
Pope quotes Martin Luther King re: climate & development. "We have defaulted on a promissory note - and now is the time to honor it." Wow!
For the next 25 hours, I’ll be offline—I’ve got some reflections here on what it means that the pope came to America on Yom Kippur. My Atlantic colleagues will be following the papal happenings in this thread—stay tuned.
Bonus: At the end of his Cuba trip, the pope gave a homiletic tribute to grandmas. Yep: Awww.
As pope stalkers of the world watched his flight path on the Alitalia website, the plane started making several loops over North Carolina on its way to Joint Base Andrews this afternoon:
In an earlier version of this note, I reported that the reason the plane started circling was that Obama and his entourage had been running late to the greeting ceremony. However, as a White House spokesman subsequently pointed out, the Pope deplaned at 4 p.m., precisely as scheduled, and the president was on hand to greet him. Others have meanwhile indicated that the Pope’s plane took off early from Cuba, which would explain the flight pattern.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis will finish up his visit to Cuba and hop on a plane to the United States. At his last mass on the island, he celebrated the role of Mary in the Church, speaking at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Santiago.
But what this really means is that the pope had an excuse to cheer on moms and grandmas. He gave them big ups for sustaining the country through periods of hard times over the last decades:
The soul of the Cuban people, as we have just heard, was forged amid suffering and privation which could not suppress the faith, that faith which was kept alive thanks to all those grandmothers who fostered, in the daily life of their homes, the living presence of God, the presence of the Father who liberates, strengthens, heals, grants courage and serves as a sure refuge and the sign of a new resurrection. Grandmothers, mothers, and so many others who with tenderness and love were signs of visitation, valor, and faith for their grandchildren, in their families. They kept open a tiny space, small as a mustard seed, through which the Holy Spirit continued to accompany the heartbeat of this people.
Grandmothers: the keepers of the tiny mustard seeds of soul. Now that’s some lovely imagery.
A common ideology underlies the practices of many ultra-wealthy people: The government can’t be trusted with money.
When ProPublica published its report last week on the tax profiles of 25 of the richest Americans, jaws dropped across the United States. How was it possible that plutocrats such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett could pay nothing in income taxes to the federal government? What sneaky sleights of pen, what subterfuge, what acts of turpitude could have led to this result?
The shock stems, in part, from a disturbing reality: Nowhere does ProPublica assert that these men cheated, lied, or did anything felonious to lower their tax burdens. The naked fact of the matter is that not a single one of the documented methods and practices that allowed these billionaires to so radically minimize their tax obligations was illegal.
The extent of the former president’s corruption may be too great for Americans to fathom.
A torrent of newrevelations is filling in the picture of how Donald Trump used, and abused, his authority as president. But the disclosures may serve only to underscore how little remains known about all the ways in which Trump barreled through traditional limits on the exercise of presidential power—and highlight the urgency of developing a more comprehensive accounting before the 2024 election, when he may seek to regain those powers.
Of all the injuries we suffered, mine is the worst. My brain injury has shaken my confidence in my own personality, my own existence.
The worst things can happen on the most beautiful days. My family’s worst day was a perfect one in the summer of 2019. We picked my daughter up from camp and talked about where to go for lunch: the diner or the burger place. I don’t remember which we chose. What I do remember: being woken up, again and again, by doctors who insist on asking me the same questions—my name, where I am, what month it is—and telling me the same story, a story that I am sure is wrong.
“You were in a car accident,” they say. But this cannot be. We’re having lunch and then going on a hike. I had promised the think tank where I work that I’d call in to a 4 p.m. meeting.
“You are in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire.” Another ludicrous statement. I started the day in Vermont. Surely if I had crossed the river to New Hampshire I would know it.
The narrative that nonwhite people will soon outnumber white people is not only divisive, but also false.
In recent years, demographers and pundits have latched on to the idea that, within a generation, the United States will inevitably become a majority-minority nation, with nonwhite people outnumbering white people. In the minds of many Americans, this ethno-racial transition betokens political, cultural, and social upheaval, because a white majority has dominated the nation since its founding. But our research on immigration, public opinion, and racial demography reveals something quite different: By softening and blurring racial and ethnic lines, diversity is bringing Americans together more than it is tearing the country apart.
The majority-minority narrative contributes to our national polarization. Its depiction of a society fractured in two, with one side rising while the other subsides, is inherently divisive because it implies winners and losers. It has bolstered white anxiety and resentment of supposedly ascendant minority groups, and has turned people against democratic institutions that many conservative white Americans and politicians consider complicit in illegitimate minority empowerment. At the extreme, it nurtures conspiratorial beliefs in a racist “replacement” theory, which holds that elites are working to replace white people with minority immigrants in a “stolen America.”
Reducing hours without reducing pay would reignite an essential but long-forgotten moral project: making American life less about work.
The 89 people who work at Buffer, a company that makes social-media management tools, are used to having an unconventional employer. Everyone’s salary, including the CEO’s, is public. All employees work remotely; their only office closed down six years ago. And as a perk, Buffer pays for any books employees want to buy for themselves.
So perhaps it is unsurprising that last year, when the pandemic obliterated countless workers’ work-life balance and mental health, Buffer responded in a way that few other companies did: It gave employees an extra day off each week, without reducing pay—an experiment that’s still running a year later. “It has been such a godsend,” Essence Muhammad, a customer-support agent at Buffer, told me.
The real villain isn’t a faceless Wall Street Goliath; it’s your neighbors and local governments stopping the construction of new units.
The BlackRock saga sounds grotesque. At a time of maximal desperation in the U.S. housing market, giant investment banks, such as BlackRock, are buying up some of the few houses left on the market, boxing families out of the American dream. They’re turning these homes into rental units that they will, in some cases, leave to decay. Such faceless institutional investors are reportedly more likely than ordinary “mom and pop” landlords to aggressively raise rent—and evict people who can’t afford it.
Americans don’t agree about much, but they seem united in believing that this is a despicable state of affairs. In the past few days, institutional housing investors have drawn criticism from Fox News and Republican politicos as well as left-wing commentators.
A “green vortex” is saving America’s climate future.
Here, at least, is the standard story: The past decade has been abysmal for climate-change policy in the United States. In 2009, a handsome new president took office pledging to pass a comprehensive climate bill in Congress. He did not. The Environmental Protection Agency sought to meaningfully reduce carbon pollution from power plants. It did not. The United States joined the Paris Agreement. Then we elected President Donald Trump, and we left.
Yes—and here, the narrator always inserts a gale-force sigh—America knows what it needs to do: Pass a carbon fee or tax, some kind of policy that nudges people to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Yet America refuses. And so the 2010s, once greeted as a “new era” for climate action, now seem unexceptional, the third decade in a row that the United States understood the dangers of climate change but failed to act. Meanwhile the seas rose, wildfires raged, and the Earth saw its hottest 10 years on record.
The way the cause is now deployed drives a perception that conservative Christians, who are tightly linked to Republican politics, will be the beneficiaries of its expansion.
In the legal battle between religious rights and gay rights, religious freedom gained a victory today. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment’s religious-freedom protections prevent the city of Philadelphia from refusing to contract with a Catholic foster-care agency that, based on its religious beliefs, does not place foster children with same-sex couples. The decision, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, is a victory for conservative Christians who have been arguing that the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom protect religious organizations and individuals who wish to deny certain services to LGBTQ people.
The Fulton decision is substantial, but it is not the blockbuster outcome that some had expected. In a narrow ruling, the Court determined that Philadelphia’s policies were not neutral toward religion and thus violated the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. Fulton is in line with the Court’s shift toward a broader interpretation of First Amendment protections, but the Court was divided about the bigger question, specifically whether to expand religious-liberty rights by replacing a 1990 legal precedent, Employment Division v. Smith.
Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity.
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.