In late August, a few weeks before Pope Francis’s much-anticipated visit to the United States, Lutheran pastor David Beckmann went to Rome to offer the pontiff some advice. Inside the walls of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, a towering structure that contains the Sistine Chapel, Beckmann, who heads up the Christian anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Beckmann told Gallagher, the pope’s secretary for relations with states, that American faith leaders stand ready to “echo and affirm” any call from the pope to end hunger—if, of course, Francis decides to talk about that when he makes history as the first pope to speak to a joint session of Congress on September 24.
But the pastor had also come all the way from Washington, D.C., to offer some (gentle, deferential) suggestions about how the pope might convey his message. If Francis were to deliver, say, a critique of capitalism, he told Gallagher, it might be better received on Capitol Hill if he first noted that free markets can also be a force for good.
“I’ve got the deepest respect for him. I mean, who am I? But with the deepest respect, Americans like technology. They like Google and Amazon and Microsoft. What I think may happen is that people who don’t want to hear what the pope has to say may try to paint him as a Latin American leftist,” Beckmann told me later. “I hope that doesn’t happen. This is too important for that to happen. I am praying that his visit helps bend our history towards justice.” (The Vatican confirmed that the meeting took place but declined to comment further.)