The America Francis Will Visit

My wife and I don't watch much TV—I marvel that people have the time!—but we plunked down on Friday, after a long back-to-school week, to watch 20/20's "Pope Francis and the People." And we've been thinking and talking about it since.

The show's opening is a bit hokey—reality TV comes to the Vatican—but then you meet, well, real people: two students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago; a young man who lived some of his teen years homeless in Los Angeles; a single mother and her two young daughters who likewise lived in shelters in Los Angeles; a "dreamer" in Texas whose college scholarship was withdrawn when the school learned of his immigration status; a young girl who recently escaped from El Salvador with her mother; a religious sister first seen embracing the girl's mother as the girl tells Francis her harrowing story. Nearly all these persons cried when speaking with the pope, but there was nothing at all contrived about the emotion they expressed. Instead, it was deeply moving.

It hardly needs stating: this is not Donald Trump's America. Not one of the persons who speak with the pope is white or well-to-do, and Spanish is more often the language at home. We meet Americans suffering from autoimmune disease and bullying, poverty, indifference, homelessness, gang violence financed by our drug addictions, and hardhearted, grandstanding politics. These same Americans are also, however, profiles in courage and hope, supported by institutions, like Cristo Rey, and persons, like Sister Norma, worthy of national pride. But what will happen, for example, to the girl and her mother from El Salvador? Will the young "dreamer" be granted citizenship and be able to enroll in college? Will the young man in Los Angeles find a way through life?

I'd be interested to know how these persons were chosen to meet the pope. What hand did the Vatican have? Did 20/20, having done its research about the pope, propose these profiles, or did Francis specify the America he wanted presented to us? In any event, it was persons on the margins who, for an hour, came front and center. Here's hoping this is a preview of what Francis will show us when he visits. And I'm also hoping Francis will be so bold to address Congress in Spanish. That would, again, be TV worth watching....

Bernard G. Prusak is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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