VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials have discussed the possibility of a papal visit to New York with the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio.
The Italian-American politician, currently on a weeklong vacation to Italy, met Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the Vatican on Monday in what officials say was a “brief and private” meeting.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the encounter provided an “obvious” opportunity for the mayor to formally invite Pope Francis to visit the city next year. The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, told NY1 news channel it was “very important for the mayor to come here to make this request.”
Although a papal visit to the United States has yet to be confirmed, the Vatican has let it be known that an apostolic trip to the U.S. is being looked at and will most likely coincide with the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. The president of the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., sent a formal invitation to the Pope last month, saying his presence would “add significance” to the gathering and “deepen the bonds of affection” many Catholics feel for the Holy Father.
If the visit comes to fruition, Francis is expected to visit other U.S. cities, most probably Washington and New York, and possibly Mexico as well.
“It was such an honor to spend time with [Cardinal Parolin] and to relate to him how important it would be for the people of New York City to have the Pope visit,” De Blasio told reporters. “We understand that no one has a more difficult schedule in the world than the Pope, and nothing definitive was decided in the meeting, but Cardinal Parolin was very open to the request.”
The mayor, who is conversant in Italian, said he emphasized to the cardinal a visit “would be an extraordinary moment for our city,” and not just for Catholic New Yorkers, but for “all of metropolitan New York, [all] New Yorkers.”
He described the meeting with Cardinal Parolin as “extraordinary.” Ambassador Hackett tweeted: “Brought Mayor @deBlasioNYC to pitch Vatican for Pope Francis visit to Big Apple 2015. Brilliant execution.”
De Blasio has reportedly been working for months with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to make the papal visit a reality. Benedict XVI was the last pope to visit the Big Apple in 2008, when he most memorably prayed at the site of the 9/11 attacks.
In addition to discussing a possible papal visit, De Blasio also discussed immigration with Cardinal Parolin, who just returned from a conference on the issue in Mexico.
“We spoke a lot about immigration, about the immigration crisis in Central America now affecting the United States,” De Blasio said. “The Church has been a leader in calling for compassion and support and a humanitarian response, as opposed to a political response to the crisis.” Earlier this month, the mayor signed a measure offering ID cards to city residents regardless of their immigration status.
Bill de Blasio assumed office in January this year, succeeding Michael Bloomberg and becoming the first Democratic mayor since 1993. Although he is a baptized Catholic, he describes himself as non-practicing. During his election campaign last year, he was a vocal advocate for same-sex “marriage,” abortion rights and the decriminalization of marijuana use.
After Monday’s meeting, he said he had no plans on becoming a practicing Catholic anytime soon, but spoke at length of his respect for Pope Francis. “We love this Pope in New York,” de Blasio said. “His is an important voice, and he's very focused on the challenges of a world in crisis.” He added: “He reminds us that we all, always, have to be like brothers.”
The mayor said he had “a very strong cultural and emotional tie to the Church and a deep appreciation for what's good about the Church and particularly what's good about this Pope.” Francis, he said, “is one of the most significant leaders on earth, in terms of messages that I believe in.”
It is not standard practice for mayors of large cities to visit senior Vatican officials, but neither is it unprecedented. “It’s up to the individuals to ask if they want to see the secretary of state,” an official told the Register.
Despite de Blasio's dissenting views, he also said the cardinal, as head of Church diplomacy, “is open to receiving all sorts of people whose views don’t necessarily coincide with the Church’s teachings."
“No doors are closed, certainly,” he said, adding that senior officials receive “all sorts of people and certainly not all would accept the Church’s teaching on a lot of issues. We keep the doors and the contact open in order to have a dialogue.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.