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Busy Schedule Awaits Pope Francis in US

The U.S. flag flies in front of a mural of Pope Francis on the side of a building in midtown Manhattan in New York, Aug. 28, 2015.
The U.S. flag flies in front of a mural of Pope Francis on the side of a building in midtown Manhattan in New York, Aug. 28, 2015.

When Pope Francis comes to the United States later this month, he will address both the U.S. Congress and the U.N. General Assembly, canonize a controversial religious figure, celebrate Mass at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia — which is expected to draw as many as a million people — and visit a Catholic school in New York's East Harlem neighborhood.

The website of Our Lady Queen of Angels School says the population of its school is "one the pope has made a focus of his visit — the often voiceless in the immigrant community." OLQA describes its students as "70 percent Hispanic and 22 percent African-American" with 69 percent of the student body qualifying for need-based scholarships.

The leader of the world's Roman Catholics arrives in Washington on Tuesday and begins a dizzying round of activities the next day, including a courtesy visit with President Barack Obama at the White House and the canonization of 18th-century Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra at an outdoor Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The ceremony will be held in Spanish, the native tongue of Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Not saint to all

The choice of Serra for sainthood is seen as questionable by some. The Church sees Serra as a great evangelist who established a number of Catholic settlements in California, known as missions. Critics say Serra destroyed Native American culture in California, cutting off the native people from their traditional languages and cultures, enslaving those who converted to Christianity and bringing disease that led to the mass extermination of Native American populations.

On Thursday, Francis speaks to a joint meeting of Congress. Later, he meets with homeless people at a Catholic church in downtown Washington.

UN stop

In New York the next day, Pope Francis visits U.N. headquarters and addresses the General Assembly. He is expected to talk to the diplomats about the refugee crisis in Europe. Francis has already urged European Catholic parishes to take in at least one refugee family. Later Friday, the pope will participate in an interreligious ceremony at the Ground Zero memorial for victims of the September 11 terrorist attack, and visit the East Harlem school. He will end the day by celebrating a Mass in the cavernous Madison Square Garden, which seats nearly 20,000 people.

In Philadelphia Saturday, after a Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the pope meets with Hispanic and other immigrants at Independence Hall. Then he will meet with prisoners at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

Before his trip to the U.S., Pope Francis will stop in Cuba where the island is expected to mark his visit by releasing and pardoning thousands of prisoners. The 3,522 women and men being freed include those over 60 years old or younger than 20 with no previous criminal record, those chronically ill and inmates whose terms would end next year.