If you follow religion news at all, you have probably heard of this Pope Francis fellow. You may even have heard that he is coming to the United States this fall, including a series of media-friendly events in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Readers may even have heard that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Hold that thought.
Detail-oriented folks may want to inspect the actual details of the schedule by clicking here. Yes, we are talking about a hug from President Barack Obama, an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, an address to the United Nations and other events that are automatically "news," on every conceivable level.
Now, the pope will also do some obviously Catholic stuff, which led to a recent report in The Washington Post that focused on one interesting college detail, when comparing this papal Beltway trip with others in the recent past:
For the Catholic faithful, a papal visit is always historic. For one university in the nation’s capital, the upcoming visit of Pope Francis provides special bragging rights: It will be the third papal stop at the Catholic University of America in less than 40 years.
Pope John Paul II came in 1979, and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, came in 2008.
The university in Northeast Washington is a natural destination for a traveling pontiff. Founded in 1887 under a papal charter, Catholic U. is overseen by a board that includes numerous bishops and other church clerics. It is not just affiliated with the church; it is the church’s national university in the United States.
Bragging rights? Hold that thought, too.
Meanwhile, one of the liturgical rites, on Sept. 23, will also have a major news hook:
On that day, Francis plans to celebrate Mass outdoors on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. During the service, to be held in Spanish, the pope will canonize the 18th-century missionary Blessed Junípero Serra.
... The 6,700 students at the university will get that Wednesday off. Most classes also will be canceled the evening before. But officials said they are trying to impress on students that it’s not just about a celebrity coming to campus. “This is first and foremost a religious experience and the first canonization Mass in the U.S.,” said university spokesman Victor Nakas.
Now, this is a light, breezy story built on positive angles linked to visit's celebrity angle. However, I thought it was interesting to note where Pope Francis is NOT going to visit -- pending changes in the public schedule -- during his visit to Washington. Let's look at the details:
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 (WASHINGTON, DC)
4:00 p.m. Arrival from Cuba at Joint Base Andrews
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 (WASHINGTON, DC)
9:15a.m. Welcome ceremony and meeting with President Obama at the White House
11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew's Cathedral
4:15p.m. Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 (WASHINGTON, DC, NEW YORK CITY)
9:20a.m. Address to Joint Session of the United States Congress
11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities. ...
4:00 p.m. Depart from Joint Base Andrews
Now, like I said earlier, readers who know chapter and verse on Francis also know that his papacy is truly historic, when it comes to one powerful group in Catholicism. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. And what is the most prominent, powerful and, yes, controversial Jesuit academic institution in the United States?
That would, of course, be Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
It is interesting that, with the first Jesuit pope coming to town, the Post story mentions CUA -- generally considered the city's more orthodox Catholic campus -- without mentioning Georgetown. The student newspaper at Georgetown, The Hoya, gently noted this gap in the papal schedule when the details were first announced.
So is it newsworthy that Pope Francis is not (remember that it's possible details could be tweaked or a private meeting slipped into the agenda) going to visit the Jesuit campus that is the Maypole around which progressive Catholics dance in North America?
Maybe, maybe not.
However, there is another newsworthy angle here. I am referring to a petition to the Vatican by Georgetown alum William Peter Blatty, the Oscar-winning author of "The Exorcist." As the Post noted in 2014:
The author of the thriller “The Exorcist” has new hope he has put the fear of God in Georgetown University.
William Peter Blatty, a Georgetown graduate, submitted to the Vatican ... a petition with some 2,000 signatures calling for the school to be stripped of the labels Catholic and Jesuit. The petition said neither the faculty nor the student body was sufficiently Catholic, and Blatty complained about “scandals,” including that the school had invited then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a supporter of abortion rights, to speak.
What the Vatican plans to do was not immediately clear from its response, but it appeared somewhat encouraging to Blatty.
The Vatican rarely handles these kinds of matters out in the open, even when tossing such a petition aside. Perhaps this is not a good time for the first Jesuit pope to make a media-intensive visit to this particular Jesuit center?
The Post editors know all about this angle. I found it very interesting that they caught -- sort of -- the symbolism of the multiple papal visits to Catholic University but didn't even mention the newsy angle about the first Jesuit pope not visiting Georgetown, which is a famous, famous, famous Jesuit campus.
An interesting silence? Symbolic even? Just asking.
IMAGE: The altar and chair designed for use in the Sept. 23 outdoor Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the campus of Catholic University.