On Saturday, 19th September, Pope Francis will arrive in Cuba at the start of his nine-day tour of that island nation and the United States. He's never been to the U.S., even as a priest, bishop, or cardinal, but since he is Argentine by birth and therefore a native Spanish speaker, he'll feel quite at home in Cuba.
More than 1,300 journalists, 1,000 foreign and some 300 of them Cuban, will cover the pope's visit to Cuba. Many of them will be there because of the key role Francis played in the rapproachment between Cuba and the U.S. Some will be drawn by the curiosity of seeing an aging Fidel Castro embrace a Roman Catholic pope. Still others will be there to shine a media light on Cuba as it opens to American tourism and business. Expect a flood of feature stories and sidebars on everything from crumbling historical architecture to miraculously-maintained 1950s era Chevys, from empanadas to samba and son.
Francis's theological arguments to attempt to bolster membership in the Roman Catholic church will carry some weight in Cuba, especially to those who are already believers. However, it is his political, social and economic pronouncements that will carry the greatest weight in socialist Cuba. His emphasis on economic equality, social justice and human rights will resonate more than any call for more Cubans to attend mass. According to some statistical sources, 44% of Cubans may not be religious but 80% love the Pope—Raúl Castro included.
Francis is seen by some as bringing the church back to its revolutionary roots. He has a history of social activism himself, and his May encyclical letter "Laudato Si" sets out his revolutionary thoughts. They should play well in Havana and the other cities he visits in Cuba. They have fallen largely on deaf ears in the Western industrial world.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Francis plans visits to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. As is often the case, the geographic focus of his tour is on the Eastern political "Establishment." He will visit the poor and the incarcerated. That is good. We have a lot of both.
But Francis might have considered coming west, to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle. Or perhaps to El Paso, Texas, or Nogales, Arizona, where the migrant issue plays out every day. For some reason, nobody at the Vatican asked my opinion on his planned itinerary.