Pope Francis is sticking close to the Eastern Seaboard during his U.S. visit, which is understandable but still a pity. We could really use some papal attention here in the Midwest.
Just thinking about what could have been, I have devised a fantasy itinerary for the Catholic leader.
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Day One, Jefferson City.
The pope has no interest in visiting the usual lobbyist hangouts, so he is going directly to Missouri’s stately Capitol to speak to the General Assembly.
He plans to deliver the same address he gave to the U.S. Congress. That means legislators will have to listen to Francis counsel them to regard immigrants as persons, “seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”
Awkward! Nobody was much interested in immigrants’ stories earlier this month when the General Assembly overturned Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and eliminated college scholarship help for children of undocumented immigrants.
Nixon doesn’t get to gloat, though. The pope’s message includes a strong call to end capital punishment. Missouri has executed 20 inmates since Nixon became governor in 2009, and many more in the years he was attorney general. Currently the state Supreme Court is setting execution dates at the rate of one a month.
Day Two, Topeka.
The pope is booked for a conversation with Gov. Sam Brownback in the lovely Cedar Crest mansion. The Vatican promises to make a transcript available soon after, and I for one will be waiting eagerly.
Francis speaks often about the poor. “I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty,” he told Congress. “They too need to be given hope.”
This is where Brownback, a Catholic, will tell the pope about his prescription for pulling people out of poverty. It includes increasing work requirements for parents who expect to receive welfare subsidies, shortening the window for food stamp assistance and preventing people from using welfare money for swimming expeditions and cruises.
The pope’s expression should be priceless. I hope they provide video.
Day Three, Wichita.
No visit to Kansas can be complete without a stop in the hometown of brothers Charles and David Koch, the uber-wealthy businessmen who give mountains of cash to politicians and political causes.
Francis, who has issued a clarion call for environmental protection, wants to talk to the brothers about their fierce support for fossil fuels, and their tireless efforts to discourage regulations that might result in cleaner air and water.
They, in turn, want to discuss with the pope their belief that he is a socialist.
Day Four, Kansas City.
The pope plans a busy day visiting places where faith is translated into action.
He will meet with staffers from Jewish Vocational Center, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Della Lamb, the agencies that are directly involved in resettling refugee families in this area.
There will also be a stop at an as-yet unidentified soup kitchen.
Naturally, Francis will visit Operation Breakthrough, the child care center founded almost 45 years ago by two Catholic sisters, Berta Sailer and Corita Bussanmas.
This should be an uplifting experience, but Francis can expect an earful from Sister Berta about families who live in abandoned buildings and cars and the child abuse and neglect she witnesses and the contempt she sees from politicians regarding people who are struggling to get through another day.
After that, Mayor Sly James will accompany Francis on a tour of Kansas City’s fountains and other landmarks. The pope prefers public transportation, but Kansas City is still working on that, so they’ll be riding in a Popemobile.