“We are really hoping that when [Francis] meets with President Obama that he’ll echo what we’re saying, that he will talk about the feelings, the emotions, the human side, and the human suffering that exists because of a lack of immigration reform and the importance of keeping families together,” said Tracy, who lives in Boston.
Francis is expected to address immigration and religious liberty before a crowd numbering in the thousands—which will include immigrants and Hispanic families—at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall on Sept. 26. He’s been outspoken on immigration since he was elected pope, taking his first official trip outside Rome to the small Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where he honored those who died migrating overseas. And over the weekend, he called on “every” European parish, religious community, monastery, and sanctuary to take in a refugee family.
Francis's visit starts with a three-day D.C. swing that includes meetings with the White House and a high-profile address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. He’ll then head to New York City and Philadelphia; the pontiff will visit a school in East Harlem, a correctional facility, and more, concluding with a mass at the World Meeting of Families.
Among the topics he’s expected to bring up before Congress is the need to act on climate change, building on the encyclical released in June that called for a “bold cultural revolution” on protecting the environment. It’s a message that could leave some prominent Catholic politicians who challenge the science of climate change—among them, House Speaker John Boehner—in an uncomfortable spot.
Backing up that message will be a rally organized by environmental groups that’s expected to draw as many as 200,000 people. Rally organizer Lise Van Susteren, cofounder of the group Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, said she’s seen support from groups of all faiths, green groups, and other progressive organizations because the pope’s climate message touched on so many different values.
“We’ll be there on the doorstep of the Capitol to show our leaders that they need to take action, not only in response to the pope’s message but to a huge cross section of the American people,” said Van Susteren.
The Franciscan Action Network is also organizing a 10-day fast to draw attention to climate issues, and interfaith groups will hold a prayer vigil on the National Mall associated with the rally. To emphasize the interfaith message, Jewish groups will celebrate Yom Kippur beginning at sundown on Sept. 22 on the Mall in association with the climate rally.
Labor groups fighting for a higher minimum wage are also hoping that the pope’s visit will provide a platform for their issues. Francis came into the papacy with a unique focus on poverty, calling inequality “the root of all social evil” and making it clear throughout his tenure that it is a moral responsibility to lift up the poor.