Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2015 / 03:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Looking forward to Pope Francis' September visit to the U.S., the nation's bishops were exuberant on Tuesday, as the itinerary for the apostolic voyage was released.
Fewer than three months before the scheduled visit, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops conference, called it a “source of joy and gratitude for U.S. Catholics” in a June 30 statement.
After visiting Cuba, the Pope will visit three major cities on the U.S. east coast – Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia – and the respective bishops of those cities were indeed jubilant.
“I am very, very excited,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. told CNA.
The trip will be “the visit of our spiritual father,” he told reporters at a press conference at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, D.C.
“I am confident that his presence here among us will have a profound and lasting impact on all New Yorkers,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
In a whirlwind nine-day trip, Pope Francis will first meet with Cuban political leaders and pray with the country’s priests and seminarians from Sept. 19-22. Then from Sept. 23-27, he will tour the United States east coast, culminating with a papal mass in Philadelphia to close the World Meeting of Families. Up to 2 million are expected to attend the papal events there.
"It is an itinerary that says, ‘I walk with you – and so does the Lord',” stated Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. “It says, ‘Embrace your faith and embrace one another as children of God.' It says, ‘God forgives.' And it says ‘Come together in celebration.'”
Archbishop Chaput added, “I am confident we will leave a positive and lasting impression upon Pope Francis and keep the spirit of his visit in our hearts as we seek constantly to build a better society.”
After his Cuba visit, Pope Francis will arrive in Washington, D.C. on the evening of Sept. 22. Cardinal Wuerl emphasized the spiritual nature of the visit. “He’s reminding all of us that there’s a spiritual dimension to our life,” he told reporters.
Francis will meet with President Obama at the White House the following morning. Then he will address around 300 to 350 bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral at a mid-day prayer gathering, Monsignor Ronald Jameson, the cathedral's rector, confirmed to CNA.
The overall theme of the Pope’s visit will be hope, and this could be expressed to the bishops through encouragement, he explained.
“If we look around the country today, dioceses are having their problems,” he said, among these being poverty, immigration, and a lack of priestly vocations.
“I think that the Holy Father will encourage the bishops, I think to action. We say we can’t just complain about it,” he said, “but we have that big hope that is Jesus Christ. And with him being our light, he can lead us on.”
Later in the afternoon, Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization Mass for Bl. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass will be a ticketed event – around 25,000 is the current attendance estimate – and it will be said in Spanish, Cardinal Wuerl told reporters.
Spanish is fast becoming the “universally recognized second language,” Cardinal Wuerl explained, and the Hispanic community is “so significant in the United States.” Plus, as the basilica’s rector Monsignor Walter Rossi told CNA, Blessed Junipero Serra evangelized the Spanish missions on America’s west coast and himself spoke Spanish.
The Mass will be unique in more ways than one, Cardinal Wuerl noted.
“First of all, it’s the first canonization of a saint in the New World. Secondly, it’s a Pope from the New World. And this Mass and the canonization is going to be in Spanish, to highlight the origins of a large portion of faith in the New World but also the growing number of Spanish-speaking people in our country,” Cardinal Wuerl explained to CNA.
A large portion of tickets will be available to the Hispanic Catholic community, he said, and will be distributed through individual parishes. The portion of tickets not already reserved for seminarians, Catholic Charities, and delegations from California will be available to the laity through the parishes, and it will be the majority of the tickets he confirmed.
Cardinal Wuerl expects that at the Mass, the Pope will focus on the “work that is done on behalf of and in response to the needs of the poor.”
The next morning the Pope will address a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill, and he will do so as a spiritual leader and not a political leader, Cardinal Wuerl insisted.
He will be “simply speaking to the hearts of people,” the cardinal said, focusing on their relationships with God and with each other.
Lastly, the Pope will visit the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities branch where he will meet with homeless persons attending the charity’s weekly St. Maria’s Meals program, blessing the food.
The Catholic Charities visit will come last, just before the Pope leaves for New York, and this is significant, Cardinal Wuerl said.
“I think that’s his way of saying 'don’t lose sight of the poor',” Cardinal Wuerl told reporters.
“I’m looking for a renewal of hope,” said Monsignor Jameson of the papal visit.
“Because I think Pope Francis has shown that hope to so many people already, especially the way he has taught us let’s get back to the fundamentals. Let’s get back and how do we, first of all, build that relationship with the Lord Jesus? How do we encounter the Lord in prayer, how do we encounter the Lord in our daily lives, how do we encounter him especially in the poor, those who are in need, those who are suffering? Pope Francis has been a real model for that.”