From September 22-27, 2015, Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States, drawing crowds of thousands and visiting with national leaders and ordinary people alike.
The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and Ambassador Ken Hackett facilitated many of the Pope’s activities during the trip, including delivering Speaker of the House John Boener’s invitation for the Pope to speak to Congress.
In an interview with America Magazine, Ambassador Hackett said the Pope’s visit to the United States stemmed from a visit President Obama made to the Vatican the year before.
“The President invited him and more importantly, in the context of that invitation, the dynamic, the personal interaction, was more than warm; they hit it off on a number of issues including, I think, migration, poverty, exclusion, and people falling through the cracks. Those are the kind of things that I believe they were discussing behind closed doors. As soon as we were let in immediately afterwards you could feel the atmosphere in the room was very positive. So somehow Pope Francis had a very positive view of President Obama and what he is trying to do, and they clicked. And I think that led to his decision to come.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Ambassador Hackett said he expected Pope Francis to discuss topics that are important to Americans, such as poverty and migration, and to raise awareness about those issues ahead of the 2016 presidential primary elections.
“So I believe that what he has already said in terms of changing our lifestyle so that we can live in different ways, in ways that are more harmonious with our environment, that we can engage in a deeper sense of solidarity and compassion with those who have less — I think he’ll challenge us to step up in that way,” he said.
“We’re a nation of great accomplishments, of people of imagination and compassion. I believe Pope Francis will call Americans to that greatness,” Hackett said. “He will push us to do even more.”
The visit began on Tuesday, September 22 when Pope Francis arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. The following day, he met with President Obama at the White House, held a papal parade at the National Mall, and canonized Spanish missionary Junipero Serra as a saint. On Thursday, he gave a much-anticipated address to a Joint Session of Congress before traveling to New York City, where on Friday he addressed the United Nations. The Pope also presided at a multi-religious service remembering the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
After visiting Central Park and East Harlem school and saying Mass at Madison Square Garden, Pope Francis traveled to Philadelphia, where he attended the World Meeting of Families. He capped his trip with a visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, meeting with prisoners and guards.
Over the course of his trip, Pope Francis spoke on a wide range of topics, from the family and migration to the importance adequate housing and religious freedom.