by Geneviève Murray
On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 22, Pope Francis arrived in Washington D.C. for his first visit to the United States. His arrival follows his visit to the island nation of Cuba, where he met with the Castros and spoke on religious freedom and what it means to Catholics.
Two days later, the pope addressed a joint session of Congress. In his speech he stressed the importance of the family in society, along with the obligation of each man and woman to stand for justice and charity.
Pope Francis is the fourth pope to visit the United States and the third to visit Cuba. But he is the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, thus adding to Francis’ list of “firsts”: First Jesuit pope, first non-European pope (in almost 1,300 years), and the first pope to take the name Francis. Furthermore, Francis behaves like a pope of “firsts” in his ministry: washing women and children’s feet in a Holy Thursday ceremony that historically only involves men, saying “who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuality, and small changes like the use of a used
Renault car as his Popemobile.
Through these actions Francis has made almost constant headlines in mainstream media, demonstrating how very different he is from his predecessors.
So it should come as no surprise that news outlets find Francis’ speech in Cuba different from those of previous popes. According to CNN, Francis chose not to outright criticize the Castro regime’s condemnation of religion, instead choosing to subtly emphasize the role of “missionary activity” in the world of religion. On the other hand, CNN describes Pope Francis’ attitude in the US as “tough love”. The pope had no difficulty addressing controversial topics like climate change, poverty, and the death penalty. Likewise, in his speech to the United Nations on the 25th, he highlighted the importance of maintaining the environment and helping the poor. While his points may have caused some discomfort to the audiences, the underlying message in all of his speeches of human unity and the goal of benefitting all mankind leaves one feeling hopeful of achieving these lofty goals.