Francis’ September travel plans

Rome — Pope Francis visits Cuba Sept. 19-22. He will meet President Raúl Castro, travel to three cities, and celebrate public Masses at Havana’s Revolution Square and El Cobre’s Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint.

Both the U.S. and Cuba credited Francis last December for helping facilitate the landmark decision by the two countries to begin normalization of relations.

Francis will fly from the Cuban city of Santiago Sept. 22 to Washington, D.C., to begin a six-day visit to the U.S.

He will meet Obama at the White House Sept. 23 and later that day canonize Junípero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan missionary, a cause fraught with complications.

The next day, Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress, becoming the first pope to do so. He is addressing Congress as a head of state, but given his style, past experience says his message will be pastoral in tone -- and could be challenging to many of the politicians.

Francis then flies to New York City, where he will address the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 25, and perhaps as many as 80 heads of state. Most likely, he will underline the points he made in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Related: Two defining months: Francis could see rough waters in US, synod

After New York, Francis heads to Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families, a triennial event held under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The local host, the Philadelphia archdiocese, expects more than 17,000 official delegates to the international congress and a million people at the pope’s closing Mass Sept. 27, which is to be held on the steps of the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Planned as a festival celebrating traditional family values, the world meeting has not escaped some controversy, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling on same-sex marriage and with claims by gay Catholic groups that their families have not been invited.

Besides the Mass gatherings and official speeches, the trip will also feature more intimate encounters. Francis will visit the urban St. Patrick in the City and the offices of Catholic Charities in Washington; Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, N.Y.; and Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. He will also join a multireligious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York and meet with families and survivors of that tragedy.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]​

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