In anticipation of his upcoming visit to the United States, Pope Francis held an unprecedented video-conference with groups of Americans representing regions that he won’t be able to visit during his six-day tour.
In his virtual town-hall event, the Pope spoke with from the Vatican with students from the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, parishioners of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, as well as homeless men and women and the people who work with them, in Los Angeles.
The event was hosted by ABC News in an effort to reach out to Americans from all parts of the country, since Francis will only be able to three East coast cities during his visit later in September.
“It is very important for me to meet with you, the citizens of the United States,” Francis said, “who have your history, your cultures, your virtues, your joys, your sadness, your problems just like everyone else.”
“That’s why this trip is important for me to draw close to you and your path, your history. I’m praying for you all and I ask for you to pray for me,” he said.
The encounter was not carried out as an interview but rather as a series of testimonials where the Pope could hear Americans tell their own stories in their own words.
ABC News aired portions of the meeting during its “World News Tonight” program on Monday, with an hour-long version of “20/20” to follow on September 4.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville Texas, tweeted his excitement that the Holy Father had virtually visited his diocese.
Pope Francis also asked a Chicago teenager to sing for him, after she had recounted the tribulations she has experienced in her life.
The Pope will be in the United States from September 22 through 27, on a pastoral visit where he is expected to discuss care for the poor, respect for life, immigration and religious freedom. Francis will visit Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia.
Francis will meet with President Obama at the White House and will address a joint-meeting of Congress in Washington, D.C. He will also speak to the UN General Assembly in New York, pay a visit to an East Harlem school and hold an interreligious service at the Ground Zero memorial in New York.
The pope will conclude his trip in Philadelphia, where he will attend the World Meeting of Families, a global event organized by the Archdiocese of Philadephia where two million people are expected to attend his closing Mass.
Pope Francis will be only the fourth pope in history to have visited the United States. Pope Benedict XVI was the last to visit the country, in 2008.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome