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.
Show None Newer Notes

The Pope Lays His Hand Upon American Politics, and Grown Men Cry

Yesterday, John Boehner met the pope. Today, John Boehner announced he’s resigning. #FrancisEffect?

Russell has more:

The pope enters Madison Square Garden for mass on Friday evening. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP)

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.

More on the #FrancisEffect: He can make politicians cry, then resign. He probably can’t make them give up their nice things, though. Democratic presidential nominees have started fangirling him, obviously. One representative stole the drinking glass the pontiff sipped from in Congress, and he hath not any shame.

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.

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.

Tony Gentile / AP / The Atlantic

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.

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.

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.)