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.
Pope Francis addressed the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal on Sunday.
“I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm,” he said in unscripted remarks before a speech in Philadelphia. “I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”
This weekend, Francis met privately with five people who suffered sex abuse as minors. More on that here.
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 email@example.com 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.
Among the more practical advice that can be offered to international travelers is wisdom of the bathroom. So let me say, as someone who recently returned from China, that you should be prepared to (1) carry your own toilet paper and (2) practice your squat.
I do not mean those goofy chair-less sits you see at the gym. No, toned glutes will not save you here. I mean the deep squat, where you plop your butt down as far as it can go while staying aloft and balanced on the heels. This position—in contrast to deep squatting on your toes as most Americans naturally attempt instead—is so stable that people in China can hold it for minutes and perhaps even hours …
“I’m still very much puzzled about how this is possible."
To survive in the frigid ocean waters around the Arctic and Antarctica, marine life evolved many defenses against the lethal cold. One common adaptation is the ability to make antifreezing proteins (AFPs) that prevent ice crystals from growing in blood, tissues, and cells. It’s a solution that has evolved repeatedly and independently, not just in fish but in plants, fungi, and bacteria.
It isn’t surprising, then, that herrings and smelts, two groups of fish that commonly roam the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both make AFPs. But it is very surprising, even weird, that both fish do so with the same AFP gene—particularly because their ancestors diverged more than 250 million years ago and the gene is absent from all the other fish species related to them.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
The Human Genome Project left 8 percent of our DNA unexplored. Now, for the first time, those enigmatic regions have been revealed.
When the human genome was first deemed “complete” in 2000, the news was met with great international fanfare. The two rival groups vying to finish the genome first—one a large government-led consortium, the other an underdog private company—agreed to declare joint success. They shook hands at the White House. Bill Clinton presided. Tony Blair beamed in from London. “We are standing at an extraordinary moment in scientific history,” one prominent scientist declared when those genomes were published. “It’s as though we have climbed to the top of the Himalayas.”
But actually, the human genome was not complete. Neither group had reached the real summit. As even the contemporary coverage acknowledged, that version was more of a rough draft, riddled with long stretches where the DNA sequence was still fuzzy or missing. The private company soon pivoted and ended its human-genome project, though scientists with the public consortium soldiered on. In 2003, with less glitz but still plentyof headlines, the human genome was declared complete once again.
Aduhelm, the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 18 years, may not work. But states and Medicare might pay billions of dollars for it anyway.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.
Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.
And that might be the right way to save classics from oblivion.
My Atlantic colleague John McWhorter and I must have received the same high-frequency language-nerd alert, audible only to the types of people whose idea of fun is Esperanto grammar. We both recently learned that Princeton’s classics department had ceased requiring its students to study Latin and Greek, and we reacted in predictable horror. A classics department without Latin and Greek is like a math department without multiplication and division, or an art department without paint. More than a thousand years ago, the monk Ælfric prefaced his Latin Grammar by saying it was “the key that unlocks the understanding of books.” I had a vision of a new generation of Princeton classicists, sniffing and thwacking at padlocked volumes of Thucydides or Cicero with looks of total incomprehension, like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson trying to get the files “in the computer” in Zoolander.
This article was published online on June 7, 2021.
“Nothing can go wrong!” Boris Johnson said, jumping into the driver’s seat of a tram he was about to take for a test ride. “Nothing. Can. Go. Wrong.”
The prime minister was visiting a factory outside Birmingham, campaigning on behalf of the local mayor ahead of “Super Thursday”—a spate of elections across England, Scotland, and Wales in early May. These elections would give voters a chance to have their say on Johnson’s two years in office, during which quite a lot did go wrong.
Johnson was, as usual, unkempt and amused, a tornado of bonhomie in a country where politicians tend to be phlegmatic and self-serious, if not dour and awkward. Walking in, he had launched into a limerick about a man named Dan who likes to ride trams. The mayor, Andy Street, looked horrified, tomorrow’s disastrous headlines seeming to flash before his eyes. (The limerick, I’m sorry to say, was not at all filthy.)
Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can’t quite name.
This article was published online on June 9, 2021.
Back when commuting was a requirement for going to work, I once passed through a subway tunnel so filthy and crowded that the poem inscribed on its ceiling seemed like a cruel joke. “Overslept, / so tired. / If late, / get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / do it again.” “The Commuter’s Lament,” which adorns a subterranean passage in New York City’s 42nd Street station, made the already grim ritual of getting to and from work positively Dante-esque. But no one questioned the gist of it. The commute, according to the Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s research, ranked as the single most miserable part of our day. A Swiss study held long commutes responsible for “systematically lower subjective well-being.”
We understand how this will end. But who bears the risk that remains?
During a pandemic, no one’s health is fully in their own hands. No field should understand that more deeply than public health, a discipline distinct from medicine. Whereas doctors and nurses treat sick individuals in front of them, public-health practitioners work to prevent sickness in entire populations. They are expected to think big. They know that infectious diseases are always collective problems becausethey are infectious. An individual’s choices can ripple outward to affect cities, countries, and continents; one sick person can seed a hemisphere’s worth of cases. In turn, each person’s odds of falling ill depend on the choices of everyone around them—and on societal factors, such as poverty and discrimination, that lie beyond their control.
“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused.”
Carl Schoonover and Andrew Fink are confused. As neuroscientists, they know that the brain must be flexible but not too flexible. It must rewire itself in the face of new experiences, but must also consistently represent the features of the external world. How? The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent.
Schoonover, Fink, and their colleagues from Columbia University allowed mice to sniff the same odors over several days and weeks, and recorded the activity of neurons in the rodents’ piriform cortex—a brain region involved in identifying smells. At a given moment, each odor caused a distinctive group of neurons in this region to fire. But as time went on, the makeup of these groups slowly changed. Some neurons stopped responding to the smells; others started. After a month, each group was almost completely different. Put it this way: The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.