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Dear Pope Francis: Head west to see the real America

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I understand, Your Holiness, that your trip to America has not been officially confirmed, and that while many are hopeful you will be welcomed by Archbishop Charles Chaput to Philadelphia in September, the archbishop has been very careful to stress that much could happen between then and now that might interfere with such a visit. I do truly get that.

Assuming, however, that you do come to America to participate in the World Meeting of Families, you will be pressed on all sides by invitations from other cities and by advice on what subjects to address while in America.

I’d like to offer you the suggestions of one Catholic broadcast journalist, educated by Sisters of the Humility of Mary and Franciscans, but also a political pundit of the right. Forewarned is forearmed. You already have as a prospective host one of the great leaders of the American church in Archbishop Chaput, and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley is a member of the “Cabinet of Cardinals,” so you have excellent advisers, though the former is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the latter a Boston Red Sox fan and thus neither is a wholly reliable guide to American culture.

I’d like to offer my suggestions as to both your itinerary and the subject matter of your homilies.

First, I assume you will make three or four visits in addition to Philadelphia. It is a great thing to begin your visit in the city where ordered liberty was born, both in 1776 and in 1787. I hope your time there will allow a quick trip to Gettysburg and perhaps some remarks on the most famous speech by the most famous American. What a subject for you.

From Philadelphia I urge you to progress west, as did the country. Pope Benedict visited New York, and Washington is too much like Rome to require a visit.

I suggest you begin with an old city busy renewing itself, a city of many Catholics and deep traditions of Catholic institutions: Cleveland.

By visiting John Carroll University in Cleveland you will be calling attention to the country’s deepest Catholic roots in the person of its first bishop, and you will also be in the country’s best sports town, in a region home to the country’s most famous sports personality. A Francis-LeBron appearance and a talk about how ordered lives both include but do not over-magnify sports would be welcome. While there you ought to visit Warren, Ohio, the seat of the historic Western Reserve, and perhaps speak on the contents of the Northwest Ordinance — again, a famous document like those produced in Philadelphia and Gettysburg that addresses how nations ought to be governed, and a most amazing and usually overlooked document crucial to America’s formation.

From Ohio I would suggest two other cities: San Antonio and Los Angeles, both booming, diverse metropolitan areas that by their very names recall the country’s deep Catholic roots and which also embody all the promise and peril of the future here. In the former, close to the border, you could speak on the complex of issues raised by immigration and borders. In the latter, the wellspring of American popular culture, the impact of that culture on the world, and on both the obligation of Catholics to stand for the unborn and for the family, as well as the call to political participation on the part of the faithful in defense of both, and perhaps on religious liberty in a land where the historic commitment to that first freedom is fraying.

This is a near perfect itinerary, your Eminence, and the trip itself and the remarks collected along the way would be an engine of renewal for the United States.

Now, Most Holy Father, having submitted this agenda, perhaps you will agree to an interview with me by phone as you make your preparations, or in person as you visit Los Angeles? I think you will find an interview with me enjoyable and without “ambush” questions, which may seem to you to be the only things American secular journalists care to ask.

Sincerely and with a prayer for the success of your travels to the U.S.


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