A Priest’s Hopes for the Pope’s Visit

The first of Robert Royal’s reports on the pope’s journey to the Americas (“Cuba and the Patria Grande”) is now available to read by clicking here. Bob recalls being banned by the Cubans from traveling there after things he wrote after covering St. John Paul II’s visit there in 1998. And he offers some context about why Cuba should be important to Jorge Bergoglio in the first place.

Speaking as a Catholic priest in America, I’m very much looking forward to Pope Francis’s visit. He comes with a remarkable record of both pastoral sensitivity and great personal charm. But our Church in America has many pressing needs. So here are a few things that I hope the Holy Father will accomplish during his visit.

First, I hope Pope Francis will be astonished and pleased to find a warm welcome from faithful Catholics who support the culture of life and the traditional teachings of the Church against the very visible culture of death purveyed by many in our country.

I also hope that he will speak strongly regarding religious liberty, which is at this moment in great peril – from the government generally and the Obama Administration more particularly.

I hope that in Philadelphia he will speak about the family being the seedbed of vocations and encourage families to speak to their children about the beauty of religious vocations – and also about traditional marriage as another way to give themselves to God.

I hope that he will speak not only to Catholics but also to Reformation Christians, urging them to be open to reunion with the Church that Christ founded on the Apostles. And particularly in Washington, D.C., when he canonizes Junipero Serra, I hope he will address the religious situation of many Latinos in the United States, who have left the one true Church for Evangelical forms of Christianity.

In view of current events like the Syrian refugee crisis, the pope’s own Latin American background and frequently expressed concerns for migrants and the displaced, and some of the venues and audiences he has scheduled for this trip, it is clear that he will be addressing questions of immigration, marginalization, and welcoming those from other countries. It would also help if the Holy Father, who clearly has the preferential love for the poor, expressed that the answer for them is not to create some combination of government programs, but rather to provide jobs that ensure a decent income for families, so that mothers may have the financial ability to stay home to care for their children.

Yesterday: the pope arrives in Cuba
Yesterday: the pope arrives in Cuba

The Church in America is struggling on many fronts. Besides the assaults on religious liberty, marriage, and unborn human life, and a materialistic and often morally corrupt culture, there is the continued disproportion between the aging clergy and religious, and those relatively few who are replacing them.

I hope that Pope Francis recognizes that the United States in many ways is a mission territory, resembling the (even more dire) condition of Europe, where he just recently told Europeans that it is time for them to return to the Faith.

Because of the seriousness of the situation in which American Catholics now find themselves, I hope that the Holy Father will emphasize the importance of evangelization. All serious Catholics must now be missionaries to their fellow countrymen, striving to bring people to the Church through their work example, their friendships, their family life, and the joy and satisfaction they find in the practice of their faith.

In addition, it would be a great help to the Church in America if Pope Francis celebrated our history of Catholic education, and the need for us to return to what was best in our tradition as an example of how to transmit the faith in a pluralistic culture. We once had solidly Catholic schools at the parish level that played a central role in the Church and American society. We desperately need to reform them, as well as recreate truly Catholic universities. And let’s not forget the 90 percent of Catholics who attend state and secular universities. There is a crying need for organizations like the Newman Centers everywhere to ensure that the next generations know and live out their faith as they graduate and establish families, becoming parents of a new generation of zealous Catholics to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and his Church.

Since this is a wish list and I can put even the most daring or unlikely items on it (knowing that Pope Francis continues to surprise us in many ways), I’ll mention one that would really draw headlines: I wish the Holy Father would speak clearly to his American Catholic audience about putting an end to contraceptive practices as well as abortion in our country.

As we approach the upcoming election year, I wish that Pope Francis would urge Catholics in America to use their rights as citizens to do everything possible to bring our country back to its founding principles as a Christian nation, recognizing that our rights and freedoms are grounded in nature and nature’s God. This may be the last chance for us to do so.

In this vein, I wish the pope would also challenge the many Catholics who are involved in politics and have been willing to accept legalized abortion and same-sex marriage to return to the practice of the faith given to them in Baptism. How wonderful it would be if he would make it clear to Catholics in the public forum that they cannot receive the Eucharist if they do not show they are attempting to live clearly Catholic lives!

We as Catholics in the United States have been looking forward to welcoming this first pope from our hemisphere with great love and affection. We hope that our love is reciprocated by his effort to understand our country, as strange as many of our practices and assumptions may be to him. We’ve had a great Catholicism in America in the past, and maybe with a little papal inspiration, could have it once again.

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.