As a nod to the large Hispanic populations in the United States and the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis will celebrate his public Mass in Spanish this month in the nation’s capital, says Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.
The address, to be delivered in the Argentinian pope’s “mother tongue,” also could be used to highlight this country’s diversity and to advocate for immigrants, Cardinal Wuerl said Wednesday.
“This country is made up of so many groups, so many institutions, so many expressions of communities,” the archbishop said, speaking to reporters about the pope’s upcoming visit. “We are multilayered, we are not monolithic. It’s something the Holy Father should be speaking out aware of, this history of ours.”
Cardinal Wuerl said it’s likely that Francis will speak to the church’s longtime tenet of compassion toward immigrants, particularly given the swell of refugees arriving in Europe as they flee strife in the Middle East.
Francis previously has decried what he has called the “inhuman” conditions facing migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and encouraged border communities to welcome immigrants rather than to stereotype or shun them. The pope also has said he toyed with the idea of entering the United States through the Mexican border as a symbolic gesture of brotherhood and support with immigrants.
“I think he’s going to evoke from all of us that we do have a responsibility for each other,” Cardinal Wuerl said at a breakfast event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
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During Francis’ first visit to the United States, he also will travel to New York City and Philadelphia, where he will celebrate an outdoor public Mass.
While it’s unclear to what extent Francis might call on the American public to reflect on the travails of newcomers’ journeys to the United States, some are hopeful that the pope’s attention to the issue could rein in the ongoing political debate over immigration.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will host Francis in that city, issued a strong rebuke Tuesday of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for ending automatic citizenship for children born to immigrants living illegally in the country.
“This is a profoundly bad idea,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It plays on our worst fears and resentments. And it undermines one of the pillars of the American founding and national identity.”
The archbishop said he hopes immigration will be a key part of the discussions during the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the pope’s appearance during the closing weekend.
Francis is scheduled to visit Washington from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24.
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The pope’s canonization Mass for Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish missionary, will be celebrated Sept. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. English translations will be shown on big screen TVs outside the Basilica for the expected crowds. There will room for 25,000 people to attend the Mass, though Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged that demand suggests that more than 10 times that number will attend.
Francis also will meet President Obama at the White House and address Congress — a speech that will be delivered in English.
Cardinal Wuerl said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was asked by Francis for suggestions on the Mass, but the archbishop said he was not aware of what the crux of the pope’s message to lawmakers would be.
“This Holy Father seems to be comfortable taking any forum, any podium, any platform,” he said. “I think when he speaks to Congress, he is going to be delivering a pastoral message, a spiritual message.”
Cardinal Wuerl said that, in an effort to give as many people as possible an opportunity to see Francis, plans are underway in Washington to schedule some part of his route to and from the White House and the Basilica so that people can line the streets.
With large crowds expected to snarl traffic throughout the nation’s capital during the pope’s visit, the federal government announced that lenient work policies would be in effect.
The Office of Personnel Management has encouraged agencies to allow employees to telework, and the federal government said employees could use vacation time for the duration of the visit.