“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”- His Holiness Pope Francis
The visit of Pope Francis from September 22nd-27th was highly anticipated by millions of Catholics across the United States, as well as citizens of all faiths and beliefs. Everywhere he went, people followed, hoping to hear his message to this country in a time of great political and social importance. Even after the Holy Father’s departure on September 27th, the words he spoke to the American people have remained the subject of numerous discussions and debates in the United States.
Before his arrival on Sept. 22nd at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis visited Cuba from Sept. 19th-22nd. His visit to the communist nation included a Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square and a meeting with President Raul Castro in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution on the 20th, as well as a Mass in Holguin’s Revolution Square on the 21st. The Holy Father later blessed the city from Loma de la Cruz, or “Cross Hill”, and on his final day in Cuba, he gave a speech and met with families at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption in Santiago de Cuba before departing for the United States (https://www.catholicherald.co.uk). The pope went to Cuba to show his support for its over six million Catholics, as well as demonstrate to the United States that these citizens have become the foundation of the Church in Cuba. In the midst of political discussions about Pope Francis and his visit to Cuba, it is important to recognize that the pope has criticized the country in the past, saying that its socialist revolution denied its citizens of their dignity as human beings.
Nevertheless, the Holy Father played a small role in helping to restore Cuban-American relations, appealing last year to Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to reestablish the two nations’ ties. Both nations ended diplomatic relations on January 3rd, 1961, and on July 20th, 2015, those relations were restored after a period of 54 years. On August 14th, 2015, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was in Cuba for the flag-raising ceremony and the reopening of the embassy in Havana. However, controversy still remains over economic reparations for both countries, as well as the United States’ desire to have Cuba improve its human rights issues and embrace democratic ideals (https://washingtonpost.com).
The main reason for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was to attend the World Meeting of Families, which occurred in Philadelphia from Sept. 22nd-27th and emphasized the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and the family. On Sept. 23rd, the Holy Father addressed the crowds at the White House, where he stressed the importance of protecting religious liberty, caring for the environment, and the need for a just and moral society (https://www.whitehouse.gov). He made history on Sept. 24th, when he became the first pope to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, where he called for respect for human life at every stage of development, compassion for all people, and the need to make efficient use of our natural resources and technology (https://nytimes.com).
It can be stated without a doubt that Pope Francis’ words have often led to conflicting interpretations; he has made remarks about climate change that have launched fierce debates across partisan lines, and as someone who was born in Argentina, a country that has experienced great political change in recent years, he has criticized what some may call the “excesses of capitalism.” Despite these controversies, it is important to not only acknowledge how far the United States has come in accepting those of the faith, but how far it still has to go. Instead of attempting to label Pope Francis politically, we should recognize what he is first and foremost- a Catholic- and that this identity encompasses everything that he stands for.