Pope Francis Embarks For United States By Way Of Cuba

Pope Francis departed from Rome Saturday on the way to Cuba, where he is stopping briefly before traveling to the United States for the first time since he was declared pope in March of 2013, reported CNN.

"In both countries, Francis will attempt to stay above the partisan fray, according to Catholic officials. But they acknowledge the probability that his every word will be parsed and spun for political advantage."
The pontiff will reportedly remain in Cuba until Tuesday, September 23, when he will head to the United States for stops in Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, according to United Press International. Pope Francis is scheduled to fly into Maryland's Joint Base Andrews Airfield en route from Cuba at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

He will then head to the White House Wednesday for a special welcome by United States President Barack Obama before attending the eagerly-awaited Papal Parade, which will begin along Washington D.C.'s Ellipse and National Mall at 11 a.m. and will culminate in a noon prayer with U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

Thursday, the pope will remain in the D.C. area, addressing a joint meeting of U.S. Congress in the morning before paying a visit to the St. Patrick Catholic Church and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Thursday afternoon, Pope Francis will travel to New York City where he will attend an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral before visiting the United Nations and addressing the U.N. General Assembly.

While in New York, the pope will also attend a multi-religion prayer service at the September 11 Memorial and Museum at One World Trade Center, pay a visit to the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Elementary School in Harlem, attend a grand procession through Central Park, and take part in evening mass at Madison Square Garden.

Over the weekend, Francis will be in Philadelphia to attend mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as pay a visit to the city's Independence Hall and visit the Festival of Families event of the World Meeting of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. He will also meet bishops at St. Martin's Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary before meeting with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, the Pope's popularity has slipped among conservatives in the United States while skyrocketing among liberals, due at least in part to his political activism. CNN also reported that fewer than half of conservatives in the United States currently hold a favorable image of Pope Francis, while "liberals love it" when the pope gets political.

"The pontiff's fiery denunciations of the 'idolatry of money' and his linking of climate change to human activity could be partly to blame."
Other key talking points during the pope's visit will likely include the détente, a type of "diplomatic thaw" currently in effect between the United States and Cuba, as well as the dangers of runaway capitalism and its effects on the poor. Pope Francis is also expected to address immigration reform – it's no accident that he is entering the United States via a Hispanic nation – along with timely topics such as unrest in the Middle East, the current refugee crisis in Europe, the drug trade, reckless financial speculation, and the technology gap between rich and poor countries.

[Photo by Lisa Maree Williams / Stringer / Getty Images]