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Vatican Confirms Details of Pope’s Planned US Visit

FILE - Pope Francis officiates at a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, May 17, 2015.

FILE - Pope Francis officiates at a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, May 17, 2015.

The Vatican has confirmed the schedule for Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the United States in September, with stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

The pope’s itinerary includes a welcoming ceremony September 23 at the White House, followed by a private meeting with President Barack Obama.

The Vatican also confirmed the pontiff is scheduled to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress the following day. He would become the first pope to speak to the legislative body.

While in Washington, the pope is also to meet with several clients of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Speaking to reporters at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle Tuesday, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, said Francis will not be speaking to Congress as a political leader.

"He does not have a political agenda. He will be speaking to hearts of people about what is our relationship to each other, to God," Wuerl said.

"... To have someone of his stature say we are all part of the same family is something that I think people want to hear," he said.

Mass at basilica

Francis, in making his first trip to the United States, is scheduled to celebrate mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the University Mall at The Catholic University of America.

He also will canonize an 18th-century Franciscan missionary, Father Junipero Serra, who established a series of Catholic missions along the Pacific coast of what is now the U.S. state of California.

The site of the mass, the basilica's east portico, was chosen because "on that very side is a mosaic of Junipero Serra," said Monsignor Walter Rossi, the basilica's rector.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to attend the mass, which is being closely coordinated with the Vatican, Rossi said.

Celebration in Spanish

It will be conducted in Spanish, "which is everyone’s native language at this point, our second language as Americans," Rossi said. "Everyone can relate, can understand.

"When we speak in our own languages to each other, there is a greater bond, a greater familiarity, a greater depth and I think that will be much appreciated,” the monsignor said.

The pope has described Serra, a Spaniard who died in 1784, as part of a missionary corps that "went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries" to spread the faith among Native Americans.

The pope has described Serra as a founding father of the United States and called him "a saintly example of the church's universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country."

Dissent over Serra

Some Native American tribal leaders in California say Serra's work led to the beating and incarceration of local peoples and the suppression of their cultures, and also facilitated the spread of diseases that decimated indigenous populations.

Without referring to specific accusations, Francis has praised Serra's missionary zeal and has said he "defended the indigenous people against abuses by the colonizers."

Francis added a stop in Cuba to his planned trip to the United States, building upon his role as a peace negotiator between two countries trying to mend relations after 50 years of rancor.

VOA's Amanda Scott contributed to this story.

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