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A Handy Travel Guide for the Pope on His First Visit to the US

If you only have five days in America, and you're the Pope, here's what you should do.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Flickr user Beverly & Pack

Ever since Pope Paul VI dropped by New York in 1965 to address the United Nations, most pontiffs have eventually gotten bored of the cloistered halls of Vatican City and make their way to what Catholics like to call "The Greatest, Best Country God Has Ever Given Man on the Face of the Earth." This week, Pope Francis will get his turn, with a five-day tour of the United States.

Interestingly, Pope Francis has never visited the US in his entire life—not as Pope, and not even when he was a girlfriend-having bar bouncer named Jorge Mario Bergoglio. And since popes have a tendency to attract lunatics and assassins, his first trip will have the most intense security detail in the history of security details. But that doesn't mean his tour has to stay on the rails the entire time.


For one thing, Francis's US security operation is being headed by Joseph Clancy, director of the US Secret Service—and we all know how much those guys like a good party. What's more, this Pope has been known to make unplanned incursions into crowds, or hop into a car and drive around a little. Since the Pope himself has already announced that he's going to watch standup comedian Jim Gaffigan do jokes about Hot Pockets, it looks like he might be looking for other fun things to do while he's here. We're happy to offer a few suggestions:

A map of the cities Pope Francis will visit while on his US trip.

How to get by in America when you're the Pope

Chances are, the Pope will encounter some Americans in their natural habitat, but he likely won't have a problem getting along with them. His preferred diet of skinless chicken breast and salad is available at any Chili's or Applebee's, but the meal will be a lot better thanks to a little American invention known as "dipping sauce." People in the US also have a tendency to run up and go "What are those?" if your shoes are weird. Fortunately Francis quit wearing his Vatican-standard blood-red slip-on oxfords, so it's doubtful he'll have any problems in that area either.

One obstacle: We're hoping he's worked on his English since 2013. Even when he's reading, Francis can't quite nail the English pronunciation of the word "Christ," and he tends to say that a lot because he's pretty religious.


If all else fails, though, he can fall back on his perfect Spanish, since every fourth person he runs across in the US can understand it.

Basically, he'll be fine.

Washington, DC

The first leg of the trip is Washington DC, which is a little like going to Disneyland and spending the first few hours in the guest relations line at City Hall. The first thing most people need to learn about the nation's capital is that streets with state names run diagonally, in defiance of any grid pattern, and Connecticut tends to be the one with the worst traffic. But when you're the Pope, you're the source of all that traffic, so fuck it; just relax and enjoy the classical architecture. Bet they don't have columns and domed roofs this nice back in Rome.

While in DC, Pope Francis will meet with President Obama at the White House, address a joint session of Congress about climate change, and then visit with local Catholic leaders and conduct a mass for their congregants. His procession will also make a few public appearances between stops.

But between his arrival in DC at 4PM on Tuesday, and his meeting with Obama the next morning, Francis's official itinerary doesn't specify what the pontiff's plans are. Having just come from Cuba, he won't have much of a flight to recover from, so presumably, he'll have some time to spare.

That's good news, because his itinerary says nothing about visiting one of DC's major Catholic landmarks: the Franciscan Monastery. As a Franciscan himself, Francis might want to swing by and say hello to the monks, who will be celebrating his arrival in the US with a life-sized Francis cutout that attendees can pose with for photos. And how hilarious would it be if he snuck up on a monk in the middle of the shot, and kissed him right on the cheek?


While he's at the monastery, he can also check out the statue of St. Bernadette, which, according to Curbed, is one of only eleven statues of women on public display in all of Washington DC—a town with no shortage of marble dudes. The garden where Bernadette sits would be a lovely spot for the Papa to explain why women should play a "greater role" in church matters, but apparently never be ordained as clergy.

New York City

After two days in DC, Francis will fly to New York, where he'll keep talking about climate change, with an address to the United Nations General Assembly, before heading down to the 9/11 Memorial. Francis has turned Pope selfies into kind of a thing, but he'll probably want to keep the papal iPhone tucked away in his vestments while at the memorial, or risk looking like kind of a jerk.

From there, he's going back uptown to pay a visit to a Catholic school called Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem. According to CBS New York, most of the students there are disadvantaged Latino kids from Harlem and the South Bronx, and they'll probably be pretty jazzed to get a visit from one of the most powerful human beings in the world, who also happens to be Latino.

But Harlem is more closely associated with the culture and experience of black Americans, and although blacks no longer make up a majority of the neighborhood's population, it remains the capital of Black America. We bring this up because the history of Harlem is closely tied to the practice of slavery, something the Pope swore last year that he would help eradicate worldwide by 2020, which by my count means he's only got five years left to make it happen.


If Francis wanted to make a stop that tied into his abolition plans, he could stop by Gramercy Park, one of the spots where the New York Draft Riots were at their worst. While he's there, he could talk about how New York City freaked out and started killing black people right after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a piece of history Americans tend not to remember.

On a lighter note, the Pope should really check out Fun Home on Broadway while he's in town. The musical, which won a bunch of Tony awards this year, is about a lesbian growing up, and this Pope loves lesbians. It's been pretty hard to get tickets, but if anyone can swing it, it's probably the Pope.


On Saturday, Pope Francis will head south to Philadelphia, where he will presumably spark a riot of his own by getting a cheesesteak from Pat's or Geno's instead of Jim's, or vice versa. After his cheesesteak lunch (which isn't on his itinerary, but we're assuming he'll work it in), Francis has a full schedule of meetings and public appearances with people like Mark Wahlberg, Aretha Franklin, and the Fray.

We're not sure if the Pope's heard of it, but there's a pretty famous American film called Philadelphia, about a guy in that city who has AIDS. Some exteriors of the movie were actually shot right at Philadelphia City Hall, a few blocks from where the Pope will attend an outdoor festival on Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday afternoon. Some people in Philadelphia still have AIDS, and if the pope has time, he might want to pop around the corner to the headquarters of FIGHT, a community health center for people with HIV.

That might be a good spot for Francis to clarify his position on the use of condoms as a method of preventing HIV. His predecessor said some weird shit about condoms making the AIDS crisis worse (although he made an exception for gay male prostitutes). So far the Cool Pope has been a little bit quiet on this. Basically his position has been "Hey, you won't get AIDS if you don't have sex!" which most people who like having sex consider a nonstarter.

The next day, the pope is going to spend a couple hours at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. That's really cool. We think drawing attention to mass incarceration in the US is important too. That's how he'll be spending his last day in America, though, which is a little bit of a downer.

He should wrap up the trip with something really fun, and really American, like, say, a visit to the Philadelphia Airport Chick Fil-A. But it'll be Sunday when he's there. That shit will be closed.

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