(Vatican Radio) “[T]o listen to him with open hearts,” in, “an excitement of faith,” which is the proper disposition of “a generous people” and a “nation of many peoples,” preparing to receive Pope Francis: these are some of the expressions the US Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, used to describe his own and his people’s emotion ahead of the Holy Father’s arrival in the United States.
Focused on the Holy Father’s participation in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the Apostolic Journey to the United States from September 22nd-27th is taking place under the banner: “Love is our Mission”. The stay is scheduled to include at least one historical first: Pope Francis is to address a joint meeting of Congress on September 24th. In a conversation with Vatican Radio’s Director of English Programming Sean-Patrick Lovett, Ambassador Hackett said, “[H]e will touch on those core values that America holds up.”
What of the reception the Holy Father can expect from US lawmakers at a time in which they are politically divided? “We’re going to listen to him with open hearts when he talks about migration, and poverty, and climate. You know, they’re smart people in Congress and they’re going to say: well, there’s a partisan element to us but there is also a human element to us and when the Holy Father talks about how we treat our Earth.”
The US Ambassador to the Holy See expects the Holy Father to challenge the humanity of his people, as well. “[H]e will make a mark when he meets with the homeless in Washington,” Hackett said, adding, “that’s wonderful for a very particular reason: it highlights the situation that we know as a nation we should be doing more to address.” Pope Francis is also scheduled to visit a prison. “Our correctional system has kind of gone out of control in a way, and I hope that he speaks about capital punishment, and solitary confinement, and using our prison system and correctional system as a rehabilitative rather than just straight punitive action,” the Ambassador said.
Perhaps most significant, however, is the personal moment of this visit for Ambassador Hackett, himself a Catholic. “I’m so proud, so proud,” the Ambassador said. “To realize that the Pope is coming to the United States’ three cities [of Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York]: wonderful, just wonderful.”
Click below to hear US Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett’s extended conversation with Vatican Radio’s Director of English Programming, Sean-Patrick Lovett
Please find a transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity) below
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: Ambassador Hackett this is Vatican Radio, so before we get into all the political, socio- cultural aspects of the Pope’s visit to the United States, let’s start off with a more personal question: as a Catholic, representing the United States of America here in the Vatican, what does it feel like to know that the Pope is going to your country?
Ambassador Hackett: Oh, I’m so proud, so proud. I retired for a while, and I never really thought that I would end up over here . When the White House asked, I thought, sure, this would be fantastic. My wife didn’t hesitate a second. And then to realize that the Pope is coming to the United States’ three cities. Wonderful, just wonderful.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: You’re going to be on the plane with us, I imagine?
Ambassador Hackett: I will be there in advance, so I will be in Washington prior to his arrival. I will be out at Andrews Airforce Base, as part of the welcoming party.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: And then do you travel together with us to New York and Philadelphia?
Ambassador Hackett: Pretty much, yes. We will go to all three cities and be part of the process at the White House and Congress…up at the U.N., we hope, and at Madison Square Garden where there is a 180ft., that would be a16-meter high painting right across from Madison Square Garden in New York of Pope Francis. It’s just been finished. It was financed by the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Di Marzio, and it is giant. I mean it is real New York: Welcome Pope France in the middle of New York.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: I have to ask you this question (and you can blink your eyes twice for yes and once for no): have you had a chance to meet with Pope Francis ahead of this visit? Have you discussed the preparations with him?
Ambassador Hackett: Not specifically. Of course I’ve met with all the people who are meeting with him, who are helping him with all his remarks and things like that. But there’s still time. And of course I’ve offered, but I know how busy he is, and you know he has to do a lot of preparation for this one.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: On the plane coming back from Latin America a little while ago, in response to a journalist’s question, he said he was going to be doing a lot of studying ahead of this trip to the United States. The media is making a lot out of the fact that it is his first ever visit to the United States of America.
Ambassador Hackett: That’s why he’s so excited about it. It’s terrific. And some of the preparations, like the Town Hall event he had on one of the TV channels, that’s a wonderful way to engage.
.Seàn-Patrick Lovett: But in terms of studying ahead of this trip, if and when you do sit down with him and he asks for your advice, what will you suggest he needs to study?
Ambassador Hackett: I think he has to understand that we are a nation that is rather unique in not only our history but where we are now. And I’m not talking politically. We are, on the negative side, kind of an insular nation. I read something recently that a lot of people don’t even know that he’s coming. I mean because they don’t read the international section of the paper, they just read the sports section or something like that. On the other hand, those who do know that he’s coming are excited! And what is their excitement going to be? Not just the personality, but I think it’s an excitement of faith too.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: One of the wonderful aspects of the Pope’s visiting the United States is that it becomes a marvellous showcase positively for America across the globe because it will be covered by literally thousands of journalists from all over the world. As the Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, in a few words, how would you describe the country you represent? What is America? You know how it’s projected, how it’s imaged positively and negatively, praised and criticized in different parts of the world. But this complex nation, how would you describe it: the America the Pope is going to visit?
Ambassador Hackett: I don’t know if I can do it in a couple of words. It’s a very generous nation, it’s warm and welcoming. It’s a nation made up of – you know when they say a melting pot – which is the throw-away phrase? We are. I mean everybody lives there of all faiths. And I go back to the image of my son’s soccer games. Which all the parents get together on the sidelines: and one of the families are Syrian, one is from Liberia, another one from Belfast. I mean that’s who we are: a nation of many peoples. All joined as one. And that’s important.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: You said generous, compassionate… I think possibly these are some of the elements he’s going to emphasize when he‘s there. The two major events the media is focusing on primarily are on the first-ever address to Congress, and then the United Nations. There’s huge speculation over what he’s going to say. But I don’t think you need a crystal ball to imagine what’s likely to be the centre of his messages there.
Ambassador Hackett: No. I believe that he will call on Congress, and through them, on the American people, to rise up to those values that they hold closest to their hearts. The welcoming, as I say, the generosity. We are a nation of very hard-working people and we sometimes see the great disparity between the few very rich and everybody else. Well, the everybody else is a lot of people in the United States. And they’re hard-working. Single moms with two kids working two jobs and families where both parents are working and the kids are working too while they’re going to school. I mean that is who we are. We’re not all rich and famous.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: Politically, though, there are quite a few divisions. I’ve been looking at different articles, I won’t ask you to read them out loud, but there you go, this one is about the Pope’s visit to Congress and it talks about this political divide which kind of marks your nation right now.
Ambassador Hackett: Marks our politicians.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: Marks your politicians. Thank you for that correction. I take it gladly. There is a political divide among your politicians right now. It was one of your presidents, Lincoln, who said: “You can’t please all the people, all of the time.” Will the Pope be able to please any of the people?
Ambassador Hackett: Well, I certainly believe he will. Because he will touch on those core values that America holds up. In fact our Congress holds them up. You know, I just met last week with our Congress people who were in town for a conference and it was both Republican and Democrat, and all of them said we’re not going to be divisive when the Pope is there. We’re going to listen to him with open hearts when he talks about migration, and poverty, and climate. You know, they’re smart people in Congress and they’re going to say: well, there’s a partisan element to us but there is also a human element to us and when the Holy Father talks about how we treat our Earth. They say: “yeah, I know what he’s talking about”.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: Now, those are the two major events that are being focused on, but there are so many more. You mentioned there are people who don’t even know he’s coming. How many people know that he’s going to visit a prison, that he’s going to an orphanage, to Ground Zero? What are some of the other highlights of the visit that you personally are looking forward to?
Ambassador Hackett: Well, he will make a mark when he meets with the homeless in Washington. And that’s wonderful for a very particular reason. It highlights the situation that we know as a nation we should be doing more to address. As you said he will go to a prison. Our correctional system has kind of gone out of control in a way, and I hope that he speaks about capital punishment, and solitary confinement, and using our prison system and correctional system as a rehabilitative rather than just straight punitive action. He will celebrate a Mass for the canonization of Junipero Serra. And, yes, there are some, like “St Anthony’s Messenger”, who ask if he’s a “Saint or a Scoundrel” – but I think most people who studied a little bit about Junipero Serra in grammar school and who have some knowledge of him, particularly the people in the western part of the United States, see him more as a saint than anything else. There are some academics, there are some native American people who have some problems. Governor Jerry Brown was here last month and this issue was raised with him and he said: “No, I’m not going to take the statue out of Congress or anything else. He’s our saint.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: Good for him. At the very beginning of this interview, and without any provocation, you said there is still a great number of people in the United States of America who don’t even know the Pope is coming. When I was preparing for this interview, I came across an article and I printed up this phrase in bold. Would you read it for me, please?
Ambassador Hackett: (Reading) “A third of Catholics and nearly half of all adults said they didn’t know enough about the Pope to form an opinion.” (Laughing) I don’t know what this says about our population.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: There are a lot of opinion polls out there right now: how popular is the Pope?...etc. But the most interesting fact is this: that people feel they don’t know enough about him.
Ambassador Hackett: That’s amazing to me.
Seàn-Patrick Lovett: The question, Ambassador Hackett, is: what do they need to know?
Ambassador Hackett: Oh, I think they have to know about the pastor, the personality, the generosity of this Pope. If they had to create a Pope, they would create him. I believe he is very intelligent, he knows what’s going on. He reads signals beautifully. They need to know all of those things. And I think, first of all, people who go to church will start hearing it in church from their pastors and from their priests. Secondly, it’s starting to be all over the American news right now. Even if the news is somewhat partisan in the United States, both sides are talking about it. We’ve got only a few weeks until he arrives. People are going to be ready and those numbers, “one-third of Catholics, nearly half of all adults”, that will drop precipitously.