Pope Francis will meet with inmates in a Philadelphia prison gym, poor migrants at a Washington church – where he may serve them lunch – and disadvantaged youth at an East Harlem elementary school, according to a working itinerary of his visit this fall to the United States that was shared with The Washington Post.

The itinerary for the trip, the pope’s first to the United States, is not final. The Vatican is expected to release an official version in the next few days, and church officials Friday emphasized that even that version could change before Francis arrives Sept. 22.

However, the working itinerary reveals the pope’s plans to speak repeatedly about the plight of immigrants, including at Our Lady Queen of Angels School and on Independence Mall park in Philadelphia before tens of thousands of people. The Argentine pope will often speak in Spanish during the trip, the itinerary shows, highlighting the origins of the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pontiff and the fact that the U.S. church is one-third Hispanic – and quickly becoming more so.

People have become accustomed to seeing the affable-looking Jesuit mingling with the disenfranchised, but the trip in September includes appearances at America’s elite power centers: the White House, the United Nations and Congress – the first time a religious leader has ever been invited to address a joint meeting, congressional historians say.


The address is both thrilling people who want to see morality preached to members of Congress and worrying others who see it as a dangerous cocktail of religion and politics.

The itinerary is the result of months of lobbying and debate about where the world’s most popular faith leader should go, what he should say and how he should say it. Between his decision to come to the United States from Cuba, and to accept the congressional invitation, many see Francis seeking to play a more muscular role in global affairs – even if as a pastor.

His decision to release a major teaching document last week about the environment, specifically just ahead of a global meeting on climate change, was seen similarly, as theologians could not recall another encyclical timed to a secular process in that way.

“He doesn’t pretend to be Angela Merkel or Winston Churchill. I think he sees himself as a pastor – but a pastor to the world. I think he is pained personally by the troubles that people experience in the world: exclusion, poverty, migration,” said an American knowledgeable about the planning of the trip. “It’s a moral authority, not a political authority he’s positing. But can moral authority have political influence? Sure.”

The planning process for the trip mirrors the debate about the role of modern Catholicism, a faith community in great flux around the world. Should Francis use the trip to boost traditional families by focusing on church doctrine, or on outside forces that impact family stability, such as the economy? Should he jump into policy debates – such as those on global warming or economic theory – as a way to engage and evangelize, or stay in the spiritual realm? What is the proper role of the pope? Of the church?

There has been intense lobbying for the pope’s time while he is in the United States. There were efforts to get him to the U.S.-Mexico border, debates about what kind of prisoners to highlight (migrants? single mothers? addicts?) and whether canonizing a California priest who converted Native Americans was too controversial. When he speaks on stage at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia about the challenges Catholic families face, what kinds of families should he speak to? Gun violence? Divorce? Poverty?


The prison he will visit on his final day, according to the itinerary, is the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility, in Philadelphia.

Charities and corporations alike want a connection to the most retweeted person on the planet. Comcast and food services giant Aramark will be sponsoring church events that week. Dozens of shelters, schools and treatment centers and parishes reached out for a visit, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, where church leaders are in the midst of trying to raise $180 million for renovations. He will celebrate Mass there, according to the itinerary, and greet New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

There has been discussion for months about what the trip would show about the relatively new pope, and how it might potentially change the church – or U.S. religion in general.

It is also worth noting that Francis, who is 78, may not make a second trip to the United States.

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