In this interview the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, analyses Pope Francis’ visit to America.
By Andres Bel Tramo Alvaraes in Vatican Insider
(Note: Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia on Sept.27 for the world conference of Catholic families just before the conclusion of the synod on families in Rome in Oct. 4-25. It will be the culmination of his visit as a bridge builder (Pontifex) between Cuba and US and in US his visit to the UN and Washington to address the two houses. America is known as the land of immigrants mostly from Europe which now is facing the grave problem of unpreceded immigration — due to people fleeing from famine and torture mostly from religious fundamentalists like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In Europe Germany with Angela Merkel, originally a fugitive from East Germany excels in welcoming fugitives while the US and Gulf nations are all too reluctant in admitting them, even when Francis is advocating a policy welcoming them with open heart and mind. How strong would be the appeal of the Pope in favor of immigration and how will it be responded to by the Republicans and Democrats in US? This is uppermost in the minds of all observers these days. james kottoor, editor)
United States is in the midst of an “immigration mess”. Neither party is innocent. But Pope Francis can help both the White House and Congress to work together more honestly in order to solve the problem. The Archibishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, believes this. In this interview, he analyses Pope Francis’ visit to America, which starts Tuesday 22 September in Washington DC and concludes on Sunday 27 September in Philadelphia. Note
How do you think Philadelphians will receive Pope Francis?
Philadelphia has been waiting for this visit for three years. If people were more excited than they already are, we'd need to provide them with medical care. Pope Francis will be welcomed enthusiastically. It's the nature of our city.
Some surveys indicate that not many Americans know that the Pope will visit his country. Others say that his popularity is going down. What is the expectation for the visit of this Pope, not only for Catholics but for non-Catholics as well?
I'm very skeptical of polls because they breed a constant emotional swing between overconfidence and dismay. And they're often wrong, even when I like their results. The United States is a nation of 320 million people. A lot of them would miss the news if a meteor hit Washington. I do think Americans from every religious background see this Pope as a man of great goodness and joy. Those qualities are very magnetic. So most Americans, to the degree they're aware of the Holy Father and have any expectations for his visit, expect Francis to be a source of hope and a voice of reconciliation.
For the first time a Pope will speak to both houses of the U.S. Congress. What meaning does this have for Americans?
It is a unique moment in history. Philadelphia bore the brunt of anti-Catholic hatred in this country during the 19th century because of the waves of Catholic immigrants that poured into our city. It was an ugly experience. America for a very long time was not a friendly environment for the Catholic faith. In some ways, it still isn't. To have the pastor of the universal Catholic Church now invited to address the elected representatives of the American people – it's astonishing.
Also he will be in the White House, with the United Nations and at Ground Zero. Do you expect surprises in his speeches or gestures in these places?
Surprises, yes; it's in the nature of this Pope. Bad ones, no.
The Pope will come to the United States when there begin to be outlined the topics that will dominate the next presidential campaign. One of these is immigration. On this matter Francis has a very clear and position. Will his message alleviate xenophobic trends in the United States?
I don't like the word “xenophobic” because it implies ill will. Most Americans are better and more generous than that. But especially since 9/11, a lot of Americans are uneasy about protecting their families and themselves. They're worried about their jobs. They're worried about maintaining the rule of law. They're worried about protecting the solvency of their public institutions. It's important for people outside the United States to realize that Americans do have reasons, and often good reasons, for their concerns about immigration.
But having said that, the United States is a nation built by immigrants. And it's constantly renewed by new immigrants. So for Americans to demonize and penalize immigrants is the worst sort of irony – a kind of national self-contradiction. People have a natural right to migrate to provide for their own and their family's safety and livelihood.
So I hope the Pope will help both the White House and Congress to work together more honestly to solve our immigration problem. Both of our major political parties – Democratic and Republican – are responsible for our current immigration mess. Neither party is innocent.
In the United States there has been some criticism of the Pope’s stance on the environment and the free market economy. Do you expect any protesters as a result?
Sure, that's the nature of a democracy. We should welcome it. But the Holy Father has said nothing inconsistent with the many social encyclicals that came before him. Catholics need to be Catholic Christians first, and Americans second. Otherwise they have nothing of substance to offer to the moral life of their country.
In Philadelphia the Pope will meet speak about immigration. Why is this important?
Philadelphia was one of the great centers for immigration into the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the city still has an intensely immigrant-based identity – Poles, Irish, Jews, Italians, Ukrainians, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and more. It's the perfect place for the Holy Father to address one of my country's most urgent issues, especially since Philadelphia is also the city where the United States was born.
An important part of the trip for the Pope will be the culmination of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. What do you think the Holy Father would like to see result from this gathering?
A renewal of the Christian family, and a renewal of the family's missionary spirit in converting the culture around us. If that can happen, we'll see a revolution in the spirit of the world.