ROME — When Pope Francis visits the United States in September, he’ll be one of just 194 heads of state participating in the United Nations General Assembly, including such global titans as Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Yet according to the US ambassador to the Vatican, the US Secret Service will have a harder time keeping up with Pope Francis than all the other world leaders combined.
“The others will be standing on the side [of the street], clapping as he passes by,” Ambassador Kenneth Hackett told Crux Tuesday, agreeing with a reporter that excitement over the pope’s trip may unleash a sort of cultural storm.
Although the pope will have two highly political appearances — an address to a joint session of Congress and the opening remarks for the United Nations General Assembly — Hackett believes that during most of his visit, Francis will stick to his role as a shepherd, without shying away from things he believes in.
“He’ll talk about immigration, homelessness, poverty, exclusion. But he’ll do it in a pastoral way,” Hackett said.
Hackett also expects for the trip to be a success.
“I believe people are hungry for someone like Pope Francis, who leads from moral conviction,” he said. “I believe Americans will respond wonderfully.”
After a stop in Cuba, Francis’ Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States will begin in Washington, DC, where he’ll be the first pope to address a joint session of Congress. He also will declare Spanish missionary Junipero Serra a saint.
From there, the pontiff will travel to New York, where he’ll speak to the United Nations, celebrate Mass, and lead an interreligious meeting at Ground Zero. He’ll close the tour in Philadelphia, participating in the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families.
Hackett, who knows Cuba well from his former stint as president of the US-based Catholic Relief Services, said he doesn’t expect the pope to roll out much of his customary views on poverty there.
“I don’t believe he’ll spend much energy focusing on economics,” he said. “He’ll focus on human rights, particularly on religious freedom, and maybe branch a little to the common good.”
When visiting the States, however, Hackett said Francis may raise matters of economic justice.
“I believe Francis will talk about the excesses of capitalism, just like his predecessors,” he said. “But he speaks about it with a greater ability, that ‘Francis ability’ to communicate, and people will remember it,” Hackett said.
“If the pope comes and speaks to values that really move you as a person, as a family, as a struggling unemployed person, that’s going to resonate,” he said.
Hackett said the Secret Service has informed the Vatican’s security chiefs that they can handle anything the pontiff wants to do in New York, DC, or Philadelphia, but to do so they need to know his plans in advance — something that’s tricky for a pontiff who often tweaks his schedule as he goes along.
“We know,” Hackett said was the Vatican’s response. “But Pope Francis sometimes has his own agenda and itinerary.”
“It’s what makes him so endearing and pastoral to people, that he would reach out,” Hackett said.
Asked to imagine a scenario in which Francis asks him for advice, Hackett said he would suggests the pope “recognize the values that made our nation great, on which the nation was built, and call for a renewal of those values.”
“I would also advise him to recognize the value of American women for what they do, how hard they work, and how vital they’re to society,” Hackett said. “Their contribution is under-recognized sometimes.”
Hackett said he’d also like Pope Francis to appeal for an end to capital punishment, inviting Americans to “ask some hard questions” about the justice system.
Hackett said it’s shameful that the majority of the people in American jails are black or Latino.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked. “I don’t know.”
Hackett also expressed hope that Francis skirts away from partisan politics, since the turmoil of the 2016 presidential election is only beginning.
Hackett said he’s basically confident that’s how things will play out.
“This should be a primarily pastoral trip,” he said.
Correction: This is a corrected version of a story originally posted Aug. 11, reflecting the fact that Hackett did not use the term “hurricane” in his own comments on Pope Francis’ trip to the United States.