Pope Francis' Visit: The Conversation in America Will Change Next Week

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (AP Phot
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Next week, the conversation will change in America. All the media attention recently given to political figures will now shift to a moral leader who is changing the global public discussion about what is compassionate, just, good, and right -- and Christian.

This is a fundamental spiritual shift that we deeply need in our country right now. Three major East Coast cities will have their typical traffic patterns and lodging arrangements severely disrupted. I'm not predicting an earthquake or a hurricane -- instead, for only the tenth time in our nation's history, the pope, spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, will visit the United States.

The last papal visit was from Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Pope Francis' visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, which will take place from September 22-27, is expected to be historic in terms of the crowds it generates, with well over one million people anticipated for the Philadelphia portion alone.

But this is much more than just another papal visit. The pope coming to America next week has become the world's conversation-changer. And we have not seen that for a long time -- especially from a religious leader.

During the course of his visit, Pope Francis will address Congress and the United Nations, preside over worship services, and take part in parades -- none of which is particularly surprising for a visiting pontiff. But the pope isn't limiting himself to this sort of high-profile event. He is also spending an unprecedented amount of his trip interacting with the people Jesus calls the "least of these" in Matthew 25 -- including refugees and immigrants, homeless and disabled men and women, low-income schoolchildren, and prisoners. Some of these people are the very same people who are demonized in our nation's recent political discussions, and are regularly ignored by most of our politicians.

It's these events on the pope's schedule that should attract the notice of all people of faith and conscience -- Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- because they exemplify who Pope Francis is as a person and as a leader. As one of his job titles, the "Vicar of Christ," indicates, he strives to promote the teachings of Jesus by acting like Jesus acts in the Gospels. That means focusing as much of his time and energy as he can on the people with whom Jesus spent the most time.

From the beginning of his tenure as pope, Francis has used his position to change our conversations about what, and who, is important. In his words and his actions, he has challenged narratives and assumptions about the Catholic church, the world economic order, immigration, and the environment -- to name a few issues. Next week, in addition to his true vocation of ministering directly to those on society's margins, he will also step into the center of the halls of power and influence and onto some of the world's largest stages. I fully expect he will bring the concerns and priorities of the "least of these" to those who too often seem blind and deaf to them. And through the massive media coverage he will receive, that message will have the opportunity to reach people all over the country and the world, from all faiths, backgrounds, and walks of life.

The pope is changing the perception of the church from being closed and judging to becoming open and encountering -- reminding us that the "joy of the gospel," as he calls it, is to embrace each other and especially those we have left out and behind; and to protect and preserve this earth we have as our common home.

Since its founding, Sojourners' primary mission has been to articulate the biblical call to social justice -- a call that may have no clearer a standard-bearer right now than Pope Francis. So it is our intention next week to be a "go-to" place for our readers -- of all affiliations -- to keep up with everything the pope is doing and saying during his trip to champion the causes of social justice, the common good, and the most vulnerable.

Here's a quick look at the major ways that Sojourners will be giving you access to the pope's visit and message next week:

  • Daily coverage of the pope's doings and sayings from Sojourners writers and contributors on the ground in each city;
  • Analysis and commentary on how the pope's visit impacts and influences our work for justice
  • Coverage of related faith group actions from our friends and partners, on issues of climate change, incarceration, racial justice, and more;
  • Live updates and from-the-ground sneak peeks from our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts; and
  • A special pope-focused edition of the Weekly Wrap, our weekly email roundup of the best writing on the web.

My hope is that you will join us online next week as we experience the pope's visit together, and discuss what it means for us as Christians, seekers of justice, and people working together for the common good. It will be a delight to see the national conversation in America change next week -- a change we are morally desperate for, and one we must all continue to engage in in the weeks ahead. Will you join the conversation?

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.