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Pope Francis Makes First Trip To U.S. — Here's What You Should Know

Pope Francis is seen in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday. Francis met with Fidel Castro before finishing the day with a vespers service in Havana's cathedral, and a meeting with youths. In the background at right is Cardinal Sean O'Malley, of Boston. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Pope Francis is seen in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday. Francis met with Fidel Castro before finishing the day with a vespers service in Havana's cathedral, and a meeting with youths. In the background at right is Cardinal Sean O'Malley, of Boston. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
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Pope Francis arrived in the U.S. Tuesday for the start of a six-day multi-city tour. Here's a look at where the pope will be, what he's expected to talk about, and other things to know about his visit and what it means for Catholics and others in the U.S.:

Where Will The Pope Go? 

Pope Francis will visit Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia during his trip to America. The pope arrived late Tuesday afternoon at Joint Base Andrews, where he was greeted by President Obama and Michelle Obama. Here are some highlights from his schedule:

On Wednesday: The pope will begin the day with a welcoming ceremony and meeting with President Obama. Then there will be a parade along the Ellipse and National Mall later that morning. Francis will spend the afternoon praying with U.S. bishops and then hold a canonization Mass of Junípero Serra at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On Thursday morning: Francis will become the first pope to address Congress(Note: WBUR will have live coverage of the address.) He will fly to New York that evening.

On Friday morning: The pope will visit the United Nations and address the General Assembly. He will then attend a "multi-religious service" at the 9/11 Memorial Museum and visit a school in East Harlem. That evening he will have a procession through Central Park before holding Mass at Madison Square Garden.

On Saturday: The pope will fly to Philadelphia where he will visit the Festival of Families. The festival is part of the World Meeting of Families conference, which is described as the world's largest gathering of Catholic families.

On Sunday: The pope will visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and hold a Mass for the closing of the World Meeting of Families conference before departing for Rome.

Here is a detailed itinerary of the pope's U.S. visit

Boston Colleges Gear Up For Pope

While the pope won't be stopping in Boston, his trip is certainly capturing the attention of many in Boston. Some local Catholic colleges have events planned in honor of the pope. Some schools also have students and faculty traveling to see the pope.

Boston College will hold a Mass to wish Pope Francis well Wednesday evening at St. Mary's chapel. The school will also host a screening event to watch the pope's address to Congress. The school is also finalizing plans to hold screenings for some of the pope's Friday and Sunday events.

The College of the Holy Cross is also planning to host a viewing party of the pope's address to Congress. The event is free and open to the public and will take place in Rehm Library Thursday morning.  The college will also host a panel discussion on the pope's speech on Oct. 1. According to the college, the school's director of liturgy and music, Normand Gouin, composed a hymn that will be played during three Masses held by Pope Francis during his trip.

Speaking of Boston, it's been a while since a pope has visited the city. The last time a pope has come to Boston was in October 1979, when Pope John Paul II spoke to a large crowd on Boston Common.

What Will Pope Francis Say?

Pope Francis is expected to touch on a number of pressing topics during his visit to the U.S. He is expected to discuss climate change and urge Americans to protect the environment. He is also expected to discuss religious freedom and call on Americans to take care of the poor and welcome immigrants into the country.

Francis will likely also discuss the importance of families, protecting life and touch on the plight of migrants and refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa.

Here's more of what to watch for during the pope's visit.

Americans Really Like This Pope

As Pope Francis arrives to the U.S., some new polls show Americans largely have a favorable view of the head of the Catholic Church.

A CNN/ORC poll finds 63 percent of Americans view Pope Francis favorably, while 60 percent of Americans view the church positively.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found 70 percent view him favorably while 55 percent view the church favorably. The poll also found 64 percent approve of the direction Francis is leading the Catholic Church.

Another poll from The New York Times/CBS News found a majority of American Catholics say the direction of the church has changed under Pope Francis' leadership, though 8 in 10 approve of that direction. And most believe Pope Francis is more in touch with the needs of today's Catholics than the previous pope.

Politics And Controversy

The pope's visit comes at a politically tricky time in the U.S. Another government shutdown looms over the issue of funding Planned Parenthood. There has also been serious debates across the country about same-sex marriage, immigration and the criminal justice system.

Pope Francis has said he does not judge gay people and they should be embraced and not marginalized. He has also urged countries to open their doors to refugees and immigrants. During his visit to Philadelphia, the pope will get a glimpse of the U.S. criminal justice system when he visits a prison.

The pope's visit is also not without controversy. One conservative Catholic lawmaker plans to boycott the pope's speech to Congress because of Francis' views on climate change. And some survivors of sexual abuse by priests say the pope needs to do more about the issue. Some also say they are not looking forward to the papal visit. One survivor even penned an open letter to the pope expressing his disapproval of how the scandal has been handled and urging Francis to meet with survivors in Boston.

David O'Regan, the New England director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he's optimistic the pope will address the abuse crisis, but wants to see "real reforms." O'Regan told Radio Boston he feels there's is a lot of uncertainty around the tribunals Francis set up to investigate abuse cases.

"The church has had this abuse problem for many, many years, and we can see very clearly that they're not cleaning up the mess," O'Regan said. "These crimes, the information needs to be turned over to secular authorities and they need to be tried in courts of law."

The Most Catholic Cities In The U.S.

People in largely Catholic areas will likely be paying extra close attention to what Pope Francis does on his U.S. tour this week. According to data from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, many of those areas are right here in New England with Providence, Rhode Island, having the highest share of Catholics, followed by Boston and Springfield. The numbers in this ranking look at the share of Catholics in these areas. Here's a chart that shows the top 10 metropolitan areas with the largest share of Catholics:

However, an analysis released last month from the Public Religion Research Institute ranks Boston as the most Catholic city in the U.S. New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia round out the top five cities on the list. This ranking looked at the largest religious groups in 31 major metropolitan areas in the country.

Keep Up With The Pope On Social Media

The popular pope has more than 7 million followers on Twitter, and the social media network has created special emojis for his visit to America.

If you tweet using the hashtags #PopeInUS, #PopeInDC, #PopeInNYC, and #PopeInPhilly special icons will appear — the pope's face with an American flag, the U.S. Capitol building, the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell, respectively.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the date of a Holy Cross' panel discussion. We regret the error. 

This article was originally published on September 23, 2015.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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