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When Pope Francis touches down at Andrews Air Force Base on Tuesday, he will set off on the kind of backbreaking itinerary for which this 78-year-old pontiff has become known. With 18 scheduled stops in three states over six days, the pope’s pace will be challenging to match.
A complete rundown of Francis’ schedule from Sept. 22-27 can be found on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
But unless you’re paid to cover Francis’ every utterance or you’re more Catholic than…you know—you’ll probably want a cheat sheet to know which papal events are really worth your attention. That’s where we come in.
Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base Sept. 22, 4pm
President Obama, Vice President Biden, and their wives will personally welcome the pope, an honor extended to no other world leader. There will be plenty of body language to interpret—but little else.
White House welcome and meeting with President Obama Sept. 23, 9:15am
An intimate group of 15,000 will gather on the South Lawn to witness Pope Francis’ arrival at the White House. It is expected that the pope and Obama will reemerge on the Truman Balcony for a photo op before meeting privately in the Oval Office—and Francis may say a few words to the crowd. But given the setting and the pontiff’s uneasy relationship with English, he’s unlikely to go beyond a few phrases. Wait for the official readouts of the meeting from the White House and the Vatican press offices.
Prayer with the U.S. Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral Sept. 23, 11:30am
The joint address to Congress and speech to the U.N. will get more attention, but this may be the most significant talk Francis gives in the U.S. Some of the most blunt remarks of this papacy have been directed to fellow clergy. (His 2014 Christmas message to the cardinals, bishops, and priests who run the Holy See included a cataloguing of their top 15 failings.) The pope will speak to the U.S. bishops in Spanish, which will allow him to be more pointed and open to going off script. If all you’ve seen of the pope is his warm huggy-bear side, this appearance is a must-see in order to understand the reformer role Francis is playing as well.
Address to Joint Session of Congress Sept. 24, 9:20am
The first pope to address the U.S. Congress, Francis will find a warm reception from representatives and senators, one-third of whom are Catholic. His speech, which will be in English, is likely to be relatively brief. Possible topics include: climate change, economic inequality, the Middle East, dignity of life, immigration, criminal justice, religious freedom, and racial injustice. Keep an eye on former altar boys Joe Biden and John Boehner, seated directly behind the pope while he speaks. They are divided by most of these same issues, but will be united for the day in their fan-boy admiration for this pope. A must-see.
Lunch with Catholic Charities clients Sept. 24, 11:15am
The pope’s presence at the White House and Congress on Wednesday is in response to invitations, but the stop he requested for his itinerary is lunch with some of Washington’s most vulnerable residents outside the headquarters for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. This is one of the few such gatherings at which video cameras will be allowed, so it’s likely that we’ll see some classic Francis pastoral moments.
Address to the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 25, 8:30am
Francis’ speech to the General Assembly takes place two months before the UN’s Paris Climate Change Conference, so it will come as no surprise if he spends a good portion of his remarks—which will be in Spanish—on the topic. As he did in his recent encyclical, expect the pope to link the issues of climate change, consumerism, and global poverty.
Mass at Madison Square Garden Sept. 25, 6pm
This is a wild card event. The pope always includes topical references in his homilies, but it is anyone’s guess whether those remarks will be extensive, or whether the pace of the trip will be catching up to him by this point.
Visit to Independence Mall Sept. 26, 4:45pm
Using the same podium from which Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, Pope Francis will address a crowd of roughly 50,000—drawn largely from Hispanic and immigrant communities. His remarks are expected to focus on religious liberty and immigration, which will have particular resonance given the ongoing GOP presidential campaign. Don’t be surprised if Francis singles out young Hispanics, who make up a majority of younger Catholics in the U.S., but who studies show are leaving the church at higher rates than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
The Festival of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sept. 26, 7:30pm
At least one million people are expected to attend the international celebration, part of the World Meeting of Families. The pope will offer some brief remarks, but the real reason to watch? A performance by the one and only Aretha Franklin.
Meeting with international bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel Sept. 27, 9:15am
As with Francis’ talk to the U.S. bishops in Washington, he may use the opportunity challenge his brothers in Christ. He will speak in Spanish, and because his audience is in town to attend the World Meeting of Families, his comments will be dissected to see if they provide a preview of the sure-to-be-controversial Synod of Bishops on family issues in Rome next month.
Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility Sept. 27, 11am
Francis’ ministry to prisoners has been a key aspect not just of his papacy but of his time in Buenos Aires as well. One of his first outings after becoming pope was a Holy Thursday service at which he washed the feet of a dozen juvenile inmates in Rome. On his recent trip to Bolivia, the pope spoke at the infamous Palmasola Prison, known for violence and overcrowding, and told prisoners he was a sinner like them. At Curran-Fromhold, he’ll meet with 100 selected prisoners and their families, and he will probably use the opportunity to urge U.S. leaders to take action on criminal justice and prison reform. (This stop will not be televised, but a handful of journalists—including Yahoo News—will accompany Pope Francis to the prison.)
Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families Sept. 27, 4pm
Pope Francis will wrap up his first ever visit to the U.S. with a massive gathering along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway—up to 2 million people are expected to attend. The pope will celebrate Mass, and most likely speak briefly about economic justice, which happens to also be the topic of this week’s lectionary reading. If you’re not Pope-d out, it’s worth tuning in to see an enormous crowd of Philadelphians cheering exhortations to take care of the poor—instead of a sack by the Eagles’ defensive line.