Everybody wants a piece of the pope. Fidel Castro and his little brother in crime applaud Pope Francis' assault on the very idea of capitalism, and Barack Obama wants to use the pontiff as a recruit in his war on what he perceives to be the "social injustice" of thwarting the Obama agenda and threatening the Obama legacy.
Gays think he may be secretly one of them, since he promised not to judge, and will soften hostility to homosexuality. No, no, say the defenders of marriage, he'll strike a blow for tradition and common sense. If they're all correct the pope will have a busy week.
Everybody else in Washington, Philadelphia and New York City will just spend the week trying to find a way through crosstown traffic in the chaos that will be his most memorable gift to this tale of three cities. It's not an easy week to be a Protestant who just wants to mind his own business.
The Castro brothers gave the pope a send-off from Havana in a burst of socialist solidarity. They didn't go so far as to repress their police goons, who seemed to take a delight in roughing up dissenting Cubans who tried to participate in the pope's celebration of mass. Raul Castro delivered the usual long, boring Marxist speech commending himself, Cuba's repressive government, his increasingly decrepit brother and the pope's long devotion to left-wing political causes.
"Cuba," he said, has "founded an equitable society with social justice," and praised the pontiff's denunciation of America's economic system that has "globalized capital and turned money into its idol." He thanked Francis for softening up President Obama, as if softening up something soaked and soggy requires much effort, and told the pope his next job is to persuade the Americans to suspend the trade embargo on Cuba, which he called "cruel, immoral and illegal" (forgetting only "fattening").
He urged Francis to prescribe Cuba's socialist model for building a society "focused on human beings and the family" and that he is "firmly determined to build a just and virtuous society with high ethical and spiritual values." He even found a Catholic priest of the past, now safely dead, to praise. Cuba, he said with no hint of irony, "exercises religious freedom as a right consecrated in our constitution." It's religious freedom found nowhere else but on a piece of parchment, he might have said.
President Obama is fond of the sound of his own voice, too, but the pope is not likely to hear such long-winded and fantastical boasts while he is in Washington. Perhaps later in the week, when he visits the United Nations, he will hear a reprise of Marxist bloviation. There's never a shortage of wind and noise where free-loaders and easy riders gather to sit in the lap of American luxury.
The pope can expect to enjoy better manners here, though some of his fellow Catholics in Congress have talked of boycotting his speech to a joint session of that redoubt of courtesy and decorum, where egos are ruthlessly suppressed and compassionate conservatism and kindly liberalism prevail at all times. The speaker, John Boehner, dismisses conservative critics as "garbage," but few colleagues join him in drinking to that.
The closest to rudeness and insolence the pope is likely to suffer will be at the White House, where President Obama has assembled a congregation of gay caballeros, strident lesbians, the aggressively transgendered, abortionists, atheists, secularists and even a gay bishop from the Anglican splinter, to show the holy man the Catholics call "the vicar of Christ" what happy diversity looks like. He may never want to look again.
The White House, which may not know any better, has irritated the papal party not because of the assorted array of guests, but because it appears that representatives of the anti-abortion movement have been deliberately snubbed. Abortion, whether the White House likes it or not, is a high-priority cause for American bishops, and you might think that well-mannered people do not invite guests to dinner to deliberately offend them. But with this White House you never know.
Some of the bishops want the pope to address concerns, important not just to Catholics but to many in the Protestant majority as well, about the threats to religious liberty the requirement in Obamacare to compel religious institutions to pay for abortions even if abortions violate strongly held faith beliefs.
Pope Francis will get his opportunity Saturday in Philadelphia, when he gives a speech at the Independence National Historical Park. He'll get the last word.