Reporter's Notebook

Pope Francis's Visit to the U.S.
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For the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. at the end of September. He’s coming for the World Meeting of the Families in Philadelphia but will also make stops in Cuba, D.C., and New York. Scroll down to see our coverage.
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On Thursday, Pope Francis will address a joint session of the United States Congress. Roll Call reports that members of both parties are being recruited to “essentially act as blocking tackles, willing to restrain any of their colleagues intent on trying to reach out for a papal touch as he walks onto the floor of the House.” Cloakrooms and hallways will be blocked—nay, locked—for roughly half an hour as the pope makes his way off the premises.

Francis often says it, but in this case, he’ll really need it: “Pray for me.”

The Atlantic, with seating chart courtesy of

On Sunday, the pope gave a big shout-out to all the women who spend their lives dedicated to the Church. More on that here, but in the meantime, Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit who’s known for being besties with Stephen Colbert, has some great tweets on common misconceptions about Catholic life—especially the sisters:

On Sunday, Pope Francis did some off-script advice-giving to “existentially sad” Millennials in Cuba. One gem: “In Argentina, we say, ‘Don’t be wimpy.’” For more on that, see here.

Alex Castro / AP

When the bishop of Rome hangs out with one of the world’s most famous Communist revolutionaries, what do the two chat about?

According to Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi: “protection of the environment and the great problems faced by today’s world.” On Sunday, Francis and Fidel met for roughly half an hour after the pope celebrated mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. The meeting wasn’t on the pope’s formal schedule for his trip in Cuba, but it’s not a total surprise that it happened, according to The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

The two did a book swap, including a bonus CD for Castro. (Perhaps the men of 78 and 89, respectively, haven’t quite embraced mp3s.) The former Cuban president gave the pope a book by a Brazilian priest called Fidel and Religion. Francis returned the favor with several books by the priest Don Alessandro Pronzato and copies of his encyclical on climate change and apostolic exhortation on the gospel—for what it’s worth, that’s Francis’s much celebrated smack-down on greed and capitalism. In his gift, the pope also included writings and recordings of homilies by one of Castro’s childhood priests. Here’s Austen Ivereigh, the author of a biography on Francis, on that gift choice:

Let the protests begin. On Sunday before the pope’s mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, at least three people were arrested by Cuban security officers, the AP and BBC report. The protesters were apparently distributing leaflets, although it’s unclear what was on them, because officers picked them up. Austen Ivereigh, who wrote a well-regarded biography of Francis, tweeted a picture of the arrests:

This is likely not the end of the protests to come during Francis’s visit to Cuba and the United States, nor the end of the quick and thorough smack-downs; throughout the trip, the pontiff will be traveling with a hefty security team.

On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated mass before thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. He spoke of the gospels and made a somewhat cryptic warning about being jealous of one’s neighbors. But he also spent time talking about a nation farther south: Colombia.

“At this time I feel bound to direct my thoughts to the beloved land of Colombia,”  he said. (I’m using the English translation pre-circulated by the Vatican’s press office.) “May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.”

This isn’t a random choice—since at least June, the pope has been publicly pushing for a peace agreement in the country.

Pope Francis has officially made it to North America. On Saturday afternoon, he touched down in Havana and spoke at a tarmac welcome ceremony, complete with many men in suits, a military band, and a small-ish but well-coordinated group of chanting Cubans. His comments were befitting of a welcome ceremony: optimistic, gracious, fairly non-exciting. He did do a bit of diplomatic cheerleading, though:

Pope Francis doesn’t get to the United States until Tuesday, but the Pope Drama has already begun. Exhibit A: On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that “a senior Vatican official” said the Church is “disputing” a few of the guests who were invited to the pope’s White House visit. Specifically, the WSJ called out Sister Simone Campbell, an American nun who leads a Catholic social-justice organization that’s been vocal about health-care issues; Gene Robinson, the gay former Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire; and Mateo Williamson, who has represented transgender Catholics for the LGBT organization Dignity USA. This official cited worries about the pope being caught in a photo op with any of these folks, which “could be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities.”

In an email, the English language representative of the Vatican, Father Thomas Rosica, flatly denied this report:

Pew has a new survey on Catholics in America. While the Catholics are always fascinating, they’ll be in the spotlight for the month of September: In a few weeks, Pope Francis will visit the U.S. for the first time in his papacy—and his life. The pontiff is expected to talk about poverty and the environment, keeping in theme with his mic drop of an encyclical from earlier this summer, Laudato Si.

But he’ll especially focus on issues of family life, including marriage, divorce, sexuality, and contraception use; he’s coming for the Church’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and just weeks after he leaves, he’ll gather with bishops in Rome for an important synod, or meeting, that may shift the Church’s posture toward some of these issues.

So what do American Catholics think about family life, per Pew?