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Pope’s visit to Cuba and US will be complex, says Vatican spokesman

Pope Francis (CNS)

Pope Francis’ 10th foreign trip will be the longest of his pontificate and, with stops in Cuba, three US cities and the United Nations, it also will be a “very complex trip,” the papal spokesman said.

Briefing reporters about the trip, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the plans were “enriched” after Pope Francis agreed to go to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and, particularly, after the United States and Cuba announced they were moving toward normalising diplomatic relations.

The Pope will be away from the Vatican from September 19 to 28 and is scheduled to give 26 formal speeches — only four of them entirely in English, Fr Lombardi said. The all-English texts are prepared for Pope Francis’s visit to the White House on September 23, his address to a joint meeting of Congress on September 24, his meeting with UN staff members on September 25 and his thank you to trip organisers in Philadelphia on September 27.

His address to the UN General Assembly will be entirely in Spanish, Fr Lombardi said. Other speeches in the United States either will be in Spanish or a mixture of Spanish and English, but translations will be provided.

The spokesman noted that not only will Pope Francis be the first pope to visit the US Congress, but papal speeches to parliaments of any single nation are extremely rare.

The Polish St John Paul II addressed the Polish and Italian parliaments; German Pope Benedict XVI addressed the German and Italian parliaments.

Responding to rumours and questions that have arisen surrounding the trip. Fr Lombardi said:

— Pope Francis has never been to Cuba, except for a one-hour, unscheduled stop-over on a flight from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. “He did not leave the airport,” the spokesman said.

— Pope Francis and Fidel Castro both have expressed an interest in meeting each other, but the date and time not been finalised. Pope Francis will be in Havana, Cuba’s capital, from the evening of September 19 until early morning September 21.

— The pope is scheduled to meet the president of the UN Security Council when he visits on September 25. Russia currently holds the presidency, Fr Lombardi said. If Russian President Vladimir Putin were in town, he would represent his country at the meeting, but Putin is not scheduled to be there, so the Pope will meet the Russian ambassador to the United Nations.

— The Vatican, Fr Lombardi said, has never announced in advance a papal meeting with survivors of clerical sexual abuse. If such a meeting takes place in the United States, the Vatican will inform the media afterward, he said. When pushed on the likelihood of such a meeting, he said, “You can’t exclude anything with this Pope.”

— Pope Francis will canonise the 17th-century Franciscan missionary Blessed Junipero Serra in Washington on September 23. Asked if the Pope knew of the controversy surrounding Blessed Serra and his treatment of the native peoples of California, Fr Lombardi said the Pope is very familiar with debates over “evangelisation and colonisation,” debates which are similar in areas settled by the Spanish. However, the spokesman said, there is “great consensus” about Blessed Serra’s importance as a missionary and in the history of California.

The Pope has made it a custom on foreign trips to invite into his entourage a lay Vatican employee — besides members of his security, the leaders of the Swiss Guard and employees of the Vatican newspaper, radio and television centre. This time, Fr Lombardi said, the Pope invited Valentina Ambrosi, an artist from the Vatican mosaic studio.

The Vatican secretary of state, currently Cardinal Pietro Parolin, usually accompanies a Pope on foreign trips. Because of the “foreign policy importance” of the visits to Cuba, the United States and United Nations, the spokesman said, the Pope also has asked Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister, to join the entourage.

The Italian airline Alitalia will fly the Pope from Rome to Havana, to the Cuban cities of Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, and on to Washington, he said. From Washington to New York, then to Philadelphia and back to Rome, American Airlines will provide the plane for the Pope, his entourage and about 75 media people from around the world.