Pope Francis will only be in New York City for some 40 hours but his visit is the source of much fanfare and preparation upon his arrival on Thursday and will probably reverberate long after his gone.
Key to his visit is the security measures in effect, particularly for his presence at St. Patrick Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and the United Nations. Special steps to ensure the safety of the pontiff, the first one born in Latin America, will be taken during his cortege through Central Park and to an East Harlem School.
For millions of Roman Catholics, no matter where they are, but especially those here in the West, including Cuba, the Pope’s tour, his first in these parts, is an unforgettable occasion.
Memorable, too, is his recent Encyclical Letter, “Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home,” a kind of blueprint on what may be the content of his discussions during his visit to the U.S.
At the beginning of the nearly 200-page Encyclical, the Pope references several of his most recent predecessors, after citing the canticle of St. Francis of Assisi and our need to protect the environment, to keep harm from Mother Earth.
First he invoked John XXIII, who in his Encyclical “not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace.” Eight years later in 1971, he wrote that Paul VI “referred to the ecological concern as a ‘tragic consequence’ of unchecked human activity.”
John Paul II, he continued, became increasingly concerned about the ecological issue and warned that human beings frequently seemed “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.” He called for a global ecological “conversion.”
“My predecessor Benedict XVI,” Francis noted, “likewise proposed ‘eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.’ He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that ‘the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence.’”
In effect, ecology, the environment, climate change, and global warming are sure to be topics at the top of his agenda, particularly during his meeting with President Obama and his appearances before Congress in D.C and at the United Nations. “The climate is a common good,” Francis relates in one of the longest sections of the Encyclical. It belongs, he said, “to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” he added, and this could have been a comment aimed directly at the Republican deniers. “In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”
Brother Tyrone A. Davis of the Archdiocese of New York’s Black Ministry Office-Pierre Toussaint Guild, said that beyond the Pope’s sagely comments about the environment there was his treatment of relationships, particularly our relationships with one another. “The way any one of us acts in the home we share with other family members clearly impacts the other members of the family and the quality of the life we share.” And this issue of relationships, he added, is directly connected with the Canticle of St. Francis.
The Pope, Brother Davis continued, also observed in the Encyclical that “The poor so very often shoulder a greater or disproportionate burden of the negative consequences of the disrespectful attitude and actions of others with greater means. So very often, even environmentalist may talk about the birds and trees (and they should), but forget about the poor and how much of the burden they may have to bear.”
Brother Davis reminded that Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, assisted the Pope in developing the Encyclical.
The six-day visit has stirred a mountain of interest and people are feverishly seeking ways to see him, especially during his travel through Central Park. Already there have been reports of threats on his life and that will only tighten security even more. No doubt he will be shielded by his Popemobile, a Jeep Wrangler, as his cortege weaves its way through the city streets.
There will be an increased demand to see him in Philadelphia with the announcement on Monday that Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, will be there to serenade him. She said, “It is a blessing” to have this opportunity.
And those lucky enough to get anywhere near him at Madison Square Garden or elsewhere can consider themselves blessed. And they are advised to get there by 2pm on Friday, Sept. 25, with a number of leading entertainers, including Jennifer Hudson prior to the Mass.
Obviously, this is a special moment for the millions of Catholics in America and those waving to him along the tour route. But given the Pope Francis’s growing popularity and humanistic policies, he presents something that is common to us all, the preservation of Mother Earth.