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.
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.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
Adam Kinzinger says he’ll fight to take his party back from Donald Trump.
adam Kinzinger is a liberated individual—liberated from his party leadership, liberated from the fear of being beaten in a primary, liberated to speak his mind. The 43-year-old representative was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t have a constitutional duty to defend against a guy that is a jerk and maybe says some things I don’t like,” Kinzinger told me, explaining what had pushed him to finally break with the president. “I do when he’s getting ready to destroy democracy—and we saw that culminate on January 6th.”
This was the sort of language a number of Republicans used in the immediate aftermath of the riot. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on January 13. But by the end of the month, McCarthy was traveling hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.
We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.
Every day, more than 1 million American deltoids are being loaded with a vaccine. The ensuing immune response has proved to be extremely effective—essentially perfect—at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. And now, with yet another highly effective vaccine on the verge of approval, that pace should further accelerate in the weeks to come.
This is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique. Anthony Fauci said last week on CNN that “it is conceivable, maybe likely,” that vaccinated people can get infected with the coronavirus and then spread it to someone else, and that more will be known about this likelihood “in some time, as we do some follow-up studies.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had been no more definitive on Meet the Press a few days before, where she told the host, “We don’t have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you’re asking.”
The Danish series John Dillermand makes a very big deal about a very big body part.
The world of Danish children’s television is not for the prudish. Kids who turn on the tube in Denmark might be greeted by gratuitous flatulence, cursing, casual nudity, or cross-dressing puppets. One show centers on a pipe-smoking pirate who wallops ninjas and flirts with Satanism. In another, an audience of 11-to-13-year-olds asks probing questions about the bodies of adults who disrobe before them. As Christian Groes, an anthropologist at Denmark’s Roskilde University, told me, Danish children’s television is not unlike an LSD trip: “Everything is possible in that universe,” he said, loosely quoting a friend, “and people won’t complain about it.”
But people did complain when the Danes debuted a kids’ animated series in January featuring a protagonist with an absurdly long, prehensile penis.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
After saying a racial slur and being exiled from radio, Morgan Wallen has become only more popular. What’s going on?
It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest artists in American music right now is a disgrace. Three weeks after the 27-year-old country singer Morgan Wallen said a racial slur on camera, his second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. His singles have been bobbing in the country-music top 10 and the cross-genre Hot 100. Billboard’s ranking of the most popular artists in the United States had him in the top spot for five straight weeks. Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos—putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?
Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past year; summer could, miraculously, be close to normal; and next fall and winter could bring either continued improvement or a moderate backslide, followed by a near-certain return to something like pre-pandemic life.
Tiny iodine particles are clumping together to trap sunlight and melt polar sea ice.
To climate scientists, clouds are powerful, pillowy paradoxes. They can reflect away the sun’s heat but also trap it in the atmosphere; they can be products of warming temperatures but can also amplify their effects. Now, while studying the atmospheric chemistry that produces clouds, researchers have uncovered an unexpectedly potent natural process that seeds their growth. And as the Earth continues to warm from rising levels of greenhouse gases, this process could be a major new mechanism for accelerating the loss of sea ice at the poles—one that no global climate model currently incorporates.
This discovery emerged from studies of aerosols: the tiny particles suspended in air onto which water vapor condenses to form clouds. As described this month in a paper in Science, researchers have identified a powerful yet overlooked source of cloud-making aerosols in pristine, remote environments: iodine.