by Ed Pilkington
Before Pope Francis steps on to the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews military facility on Tuesday at the start of a five-day tour of the US, he will already have raised the hopes and quickened the pulses of American progressives who see in him a chance to rise from the partisan swamp of Washington to higher moral ground.
From the fight against economic inequality and climate change, to the plight of undocumented immigrants and the movement against mass incarceration in US prisons, advocacy groups see the pope’s first US visit as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to press their case beyond the arid stalemate of national party politics. While the TV screens will focus on the pontiff’s big set speeches before Congress and the United Nations, around the country thousands of progressive discussion groups and viewing parties will be held in an attempt to seize the moment.
One of the more dramatic of these events is a 100-mile “pilgrimage” that 100 women, many of them low-paid immigrant workers, is undertaking from an immigrant detention center in Pennsylvania to Washington. The women, who have timed the march to end just as Francis is landing, wrote an open letter to the US presidential candidates in which they decried the “rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States” and expressed their hope that the pope would issue a challenge to “elected leaders around the world to welcome migrants”.
Pro-immigration groups see the pope’s arrival as a possible balm for the wounds of America’s Hispanic communities amid the increasingly shrill anti-immigration rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates. As Maribel Hastings of America’s Voice put it, writing in Spanish: “Millions of undocumented people see in the pope a defender and intermediary who can change hearts … At least many people hope that the pope will somehow tackle the poisonous and prejudicial atmosphere that now grips the Republican race for the presidential nomination.”
Immigrant support groups have been working with the archdiocese of Washington and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare for the papal visit. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Clinic, is hoping that the pontiff will specifically raise the ongoing detention of hundreds of undocumented mothers and children from Central America when he meets several unaccompanied teenage immigrants on Thursday.
“The pope has very broad appeal outside Catholics,” said Clinic’s advocacy director, Ashley Feasley. “That means he has the power to deliver a very strong message when he speaks out.”
Her point about the pontiff’s wide appeal is supported by a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows that while 86% of Catholics predictably view him favourably, so do 70% of all Americans and 65% of non-Catholics. Though some conservative critics have attempted to distance themselves from the pope’s visit – one Arizona Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, says he is boycotting the trip – they are out of step with the majority of US opinion, the poll suggests.
It found that 59% of all Americans, and 67% of US Catholics, think that it would be appropriate for Francis to address social, economic and environmental issues directly in his Congress speech.
In the wake of Francis’s June encyclical on climate change in which he told the world’s rich nations that they need to take action, environmental groups are confident he will speak out on the subject either in front of Congress or the UN, or both. Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant that combines 14 national organizations including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the pontiff could take the debate to a more elevated moral level at a time when several leading Republicans continued to air sceptical views on the science of global warming.
“He appeals to people’s moral consciousness – he touches people. That’s very important as we have to stop seeing climate change in terms of economics where the prime discussion still is, and start seeing it as a commonsense need to move quickly away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy.”
In a similar way, progressives working to close the increasing inequality gap between the rich and the poor in the US have no doubt that he will be expressing views on poverty that he has already made crystal clear. He has frequently lamented the “scandal” of so many hungry children amid so much wealth.
Read the full article from The Guardian UK.