Monday, November 17, 2014

Sic Transit Kabuki Theater – At Long Last, Francis Confirms US PopeTrip

After a year of all-but-formal word, it's finally official – in his opening talk this morning to an all-star conference on the defense of marriage arranged by the CDF, the Pope announced that he was "happy to confirm that, God willing, in September 2015 I will go to Philadelphia for the eighth World Meeting of Families."

Its first edition in North America, the Vatican's global event for the domestic church was awarded to the roiled River City empire in June 2012 by Benedict XVI amid his final months in office to serve as an encouragement to a famously-devoted flock that was – and, indeed, remains – blown out of the water amid seismic revelations of sex-abuse and the Chancery response to it, on top of massive parish and school closings and a long-term deficit that, at its worst, reached into the range of $300 million. While Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. has made significant headway in tackling the most daunting set of challenges an American prelate's faced in the last half-century, a sweeping reboot of attitudes and structures alike will still take some years to be fully achieved.

Slated to take over the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the bulk of its events, the World Meeting – for which registration was recently opened – will culminate with Francis' presence over the long weekend of 25-28 September. A full schedule for the days is only expected to emerge from Rome over the spring at the earliest. In the meantime, Francis will be visiting Turkey over US' Thanksgiving Weekend, and addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg next Tuesday before embarking on a weeklong pilgrimage to Sri Lanka and the Philippines – his second to Asia – in mid-January.

As reported here long ago, the expected itinerary of Jorge Bergoglio's first-ever US trek is likewise a near-lock to include Washington and New York – and with them, a very possible leg in Mexico – before the pontiff heads back to Rome to open the Ordinary Synod on the Family, which will conclude the global church's two-year process of discernment on its pastoral response to the situations faced by today's faithful in their lived experience.

While Round Two in the Aula will begin a week after Francis' final Mass in Philly, for a Universal Pastor who explicitly abhors the notion of "a bishop behind bulletproof glass," the most colorful discussions of all might just come about between the Vatican advance team and the Secret Service, who've historically been more paranoid about guarding the Roman Pontiff on Stateside soil than even the President.

Perhaps most historically of all, meanwhile, for a Pope who seems more attached to the embattled predecessor he recently beatified than any other, it is deeply telling that Francis' first voyage to the US and UN will come a week before the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's 13-hour trek to New York on St Francis' Day 1965.

Of course, that was the first papal voyage to North America. And now, the journey will be repeated by the first American Pope.