The Vatican on Tuesday released a detailed itinerary of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. this September which will include a swing through New York City that, in some ways, will be deliberately scaled-down. Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Pope Francis’ first visit to New York will look much like previous papal visits. Like Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II before him, he’ll visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, September 24 and address the United Nations on Friday. And like Benedict in 2008, he will visit the World Trade Center site.
But pope watchers say Francis has a knack for going off-script.
“One of the most interesting things was that the pope intended to start this U.S. trip coming across the border from Mexico, just like an illegal immigrant would do. And so I wonder how he’s going to integrate those themes of immigration and economic justice into what on the surface looks like a pretty boilerplate schedule," said Fordham University Theology Chair and Associate Professor Patrick Hornbeck.
Indeed, immigration is the planned theme of his remarks in East Harlem, where he’ll visit Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic school. That will come the same day as a half-hour address to the UN General Assembly, and a trip to the 9/11 Memorial, where he’ll visit with 9/11 family members, participate in a multi-faith event there and see the Ground Zero steel cross.
But where Benedict celebrated mass at Yankee Stadium, as did John Paul II in both 1979 and 1995 – in addition to other large-scale masses at Giants Stadium, Central Park and Aqueduct Racetrack. This time, Pope Francis will lead a relatively intimate service at Madison Square Garden on Friday, September 25 for about 20,000 people so as not to overshadow larger events planned for Philadelphia.
Francis will, however, be more visible in one respect: Traveling at certain points by open motorcade.
“Certainly the traditional image of John Paul II, who was the first major traveling Pope, or even Benedict XVI, was the pope in the so-called Popemobile, behind the glass. Francis has worked mostly from an open-top Jeep," Hornbeck noted.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan says the Vatican wants Pope Francis to keep his time in New York simple and short.
He told the media that Pope Francis wants to focus on the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia instead.
"Why is not the closing mass at Yankee Stadium, because they've been so graciously hospitable in the past and in many ways, we would have loved to do it again, or even Citi Field? But we were told no huge mega-masses, because that will be in Philadelphia," Dolan said. "That Sunday mass on the large day will be the main mass of the pope."
Pope Francis arrives on a Thursday, September 24, and will be here just two nights. His entire stay will last only about 40 hours. He departs JFK first thing Saturday morning, bound for Philadelphia.