Pope Francis is not traveling to the United States in September to scold anyone the US ambassador to the Holy See has said.
Ken Hackett, the ambassador believes that the pontiff’s aims are to challenge the country’s people to live up to their ideals.
Yesterday he said, “I don’t think he’s coming to the United States to antagonise, to criticise, to call out people.
“I think he’s coming to shore up. But he won’t hesitate from speaking out about some of the issues he feels passionately about.”
Poverty, immigration, climate change, inclusion and respect for human dignity and human life are regularly on the Pope’s agenda.
These are issues that could be on the nation’s political agenda as it gears up for the 2016 presidential primaries, which begin five months after Pope Francis visits.
Mr Hackett said: “There are those in the United States who would like our political candidates to address some issues that would be very close to Pope Francis: (for example) poverty in the United States, poverty around the world, migration.”
By raising those issues, the Pope will “kind of drop them into the political discussion,” the ambassador said.
The timing of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, September 22-27, is “kind of serendipitous, but you use serendipity where you can,” Mr Hackett said.
Asked what issues he thinks the pontiff will challenge Americans on, the ambassador replied, “You can hope and you can speculate. I am a person of hope, but I’m paid to speculate.
“So I believe that what he has already said in terms of changing our lifestyle so that we can live in different ways, in ways that are more harmonious with our environment, that we can engage in a deeper sense of solidarity and compassion with those who have less – I think he’ll challenge us to step up in that way.
“We’re a nation of great accomplishments, of people of imagination and compassion. I believe Pope Francis will call Americans to that greatness. He will push us to do even more.”
Both St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI spoke strongly against legalised abortion when they visited the United States. It is an issue of grave concern to the Catholic Church and one that became a topic of serious debate in late July and early August after the release of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use and sale of foetal tissues from abortions.
While Pope Francis does not shy away from condemning abortion, the ambassador said he is not certain the pope will address abortion in the same way as his predecessors did while visiting the United States.
A recent Gallup survey showed Pope Francis’ popularity declining among Americans, but Mr Hackett is convinced it is not of any importance to the pope.
He said: “I bet he has not read the survey and it just doesn’t matter. In my two years of reasonably close watching of Pope Francis, that’s not where he is. He speaks from his heart and he speaks with thought about things he believes passionately on, whether it’s politically acceptable or not.
“Pope Francis walks the walk and talks the talk. He is everything that you would expect a pope to be: He is deeply prayerful; deeply thoughtful; he is engaged on world issues, but always from the point of view of the least of us. I think Americans and people worldwide recognise that.”
Lower approval ratings or not, the ambassador believes that “when Americans see Pope Francis reaching out behind the Secret Service guys to embrace the children and the elderly then they will love him even more.”
Asked whether the Secret Service would feel the same, the ambassador said a long process of careful planning has gone into the Pope’s visit. “Our Secret Service apparatus is the best in the world. They have been planning for this visit for a long time, and I think they are ready for Pope Francis.”
Pope Francis will leave the Vatican on September 19, spending three days in Cuba before flying to the United States.
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have credited Pope Francis and the Vatican with helping them ease tensions and move toward the restoration of normal relations.
The pontiff’s decision to fly to Cuba before going on to Washington is a decision the Obama administration has welcomed.
Mr Hackett said. “I think it can be a moment of healing, a moment where he can call attention to the good things that are happening and maybe call out some of the things that need to be improved.”
In a 1998 booklet of reflections on the speeches and homilies St John Paul made during his historic visit to Cuba a few months earlier Francis argued that a sincere and honest dialogue would benefit both the US and Cuba.
At the same time he argued for the full freedom of the Catholic Church in Cuba to preach the Gospel and minister to the poor.
He denounced ideological systems that offend the transcendent dignity of the human person.
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