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 14 Newer Notes

Why Did the Pope's Plane Go Into a Holding Pattern?

Updated at 8:30 p.m.

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.

There’s a good drinking game to play while Pope Francis is in town. (Yes, drinking game—if you’ve never taken a shot with a priest, you haven’t lived.) Look for all the headlines that combine “Pope Francis” and “Democrat” or “Republican” or “GOP.” For example:

Pope Francis Takes Veiled Swipe at ‘Progressive’ Democrats

Pope’s Visit Brings Hopes for Dems, Trepidation for GOP

Democrats Try to Recruit Pope Francis for Immigration Cause

The Pope vs. the GOP

(First paragraph: “Congressional Republicans hope Pope Francis leaves his liberal-leaning views at the Vatican.”)

Pope Francis’s Visit Spells Trouble for Republican Presidential Candidates

(Last paragraph: “But ultimately, even in the unlikely event the Pope endorses a [GOP] candidate...”)

This one doesn’t quite follow the form, but it would earn you a Jägerbomb:

Will Pope Francis Sway the Iowa Caucuses?

I bring this up not because I’m secretly hoping the crowds who greet Francis will be drunk—Lord, have mercy—but to make a point: It seems as though American media outlets are basically unable to process the pope’s visit and views outside the context of politics.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis will land on American soil. (NB to all those who are clearing their throats and starting to say, in their best announcer voices, “Shepherd One is preparing to land”: John Allen Jr. over at Crux points out that the plane isn’t actually called that.) A lot has already happened on this trip, which started on Saturday in Cuba—if you’re looking to catch up, here’s what we’ve covered so far.

Last week, Jason Berry had a piece on how the Roman Catholic Church survived in Cuba, even through years of communism. Miriam Celaya pushed back on all the hype: “Many Cubans recognize that Francis’s visit will not make a difference in their daily lives and problems,” she wrote on Saturday. She’s not the only one to protest Francis’s visit; on Sunday, at least three people were arrested during the pope’s mass in the Plaza de la Revolución. And speaking of dissidents, the pope met with Fidel Castro, who gave hope to track-suit-wearers around the globe:

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: