VATICAN CITY — Visits to the United States, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, a speech at the United Nations and the concluding synod on the family will be just some of the highlights of a busy year for Pope Francis in 2015.
In September, the Holy Father will travel to Philadelphia to take part in the eighth World Meeting of Families, which will be held Sept. 22-27. It will be Francis’ first visit to the United States.
The program has yet to be published, but the Holy Father is expected to celebrate a large, open-air Mass in the city. He is also scheduled to travel to New York City to address the United Nations, although the exact date has yet to be set. A visit to Washington, where he has been invited to address a joint session of Congress, may also be in the lineup.
One of Pope Francis’ first major engagements of 2015 will be to hold a consistory of new cardinals Feb. 14-15. At least 10 new bishops are likely to be elevated to the College of Cardinals, within the quota of 120 voting cardinals under the age of 80. Cardinal-making consistories are significant, as they offer a pope the chance to ensure his successor is of similar mind and, in the case of Pope Francis, likely to continue his program for reform.
U.S. Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, José Gomez of Los Angeles and Blase Cupich of Chicago — ordinaries of sees usually overseen by cardinals — are considered candidates for a red hat, although their predecessors are still under 80, which may mean they are passed over this time around.
February will be a full month for the Holy Father. The College of Cardinals will meet just prior to the consistory, Feb. 12-13. There will also be a meeting of the council of cardinals — the so-called C9 — for reform of the Roman Curia Feb. 9-11. Both meetings will cover the reorganization proposals for the Holy See.
The Vatican has cautioned against expecting any announcement about major reforms in February, but it has disclosed that the merging of some pontifical councils into two new congregations is being discussed. A new constitution for the Curia may also be revealed this year.
The Pope’s first trip outside of Italy for 2015 will be to Sri Lanka and the Philippines Jan. 12-19. He is scheduled to visit Colombo and canonize the country’s first saint, Blessed Joseph Vaz; he was known as the “Apostle of Ceylon.” The last papal visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines was 20 years ago, when Pope St. John Paul II beatified Father Vaz in Colombo and presided over World Youth Day in Manila.
Francis’ visit to Sri Lanka has caused some controversy, coming shortly after presidential elections in that country. Usually, papal trips are scheduled outside of election periods, but this election was unexpected, as it was announced after the trip was confirmed. A growing chorus of Sri Lankans are urging the Pope to postpone the visit to avoid it being exploited for political purposes, especially by the ruling party, which is desperate to cling to power.
On Jan. 16, the Pope will arrive in Manila for a four-day visit, where he will give a series of discourses and celebrate two large, open-air Masses in the country. He is expected to draw record crowds, exceeding the 5 million who attended Mass there with St. John Paul II in 1995.
The Pope has said he will also visit three Latin-American countries in 2015 but hasn’t yet named them. President Evo Morales of Bolivia has said the Holy Father is coming, but he didn’t give exact dates. Chile is also likely to be one of the destinations, and some speculate Cuba may be on the itinerary, given the recent détente with the U.S., brokered by Francis.
The Pope has also said he plans to include a trip to Africa, and some speculate it will be to Uganda, but no specific country has been mentioned yet.
Within Italy, the Pope’s pastoral visits will include a trip to Turin on June 21, where he will venerate the Shroud of Turin. The famous relic is being displayed in Turin’s cathedral from April 19 to June 24.
Vatican sources told the Register that the Pope’s new encyclical, most probably on “human ecology,” will be published sometime between February and April. It truly will be Francis’ first encyclical, as the only one published so far during his pontificate — Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) — was largely penned by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has said the document is expected to put a “particular emphasis” on the theme of “human ecology,” a phrase used by Benedict XVI to describe not only protection of the environment but also masculinity and femininity, as created by God.
At a Vatican conference in November on the complementarity of man and woman, the Holy Father said the crisis in the family has “produced an ecological crisis” that has prompted the need to “foster a new human ecology.”
Vatican sources also told the Register that the main issues raised in the encyclical are expected to figure highly in the Pope’s address to the United Nations in September.
The year will conclude with the second and final synod on the family at the Vatican. The Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place Oct. 4-25 and will mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. The theme will be “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.”
The purpose of the meeting is to continue the work of the extraordinary synod of bishops that took place in October 2014. The bishops will reflect “further on the points discussed, so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines” for the pastoral care of the person and the family.
Many will be hoping the meeting will resolve questions and controversies raised during the 2014 synod, when some of the Church’s teaching on particularly hot-button issues appeared to be “up for grabs.”
The synod will conclude with an apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis, although that is not expected to appear until 2016.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.