Pope Francis begins an Americas sojourn in Havana to reinforce the new found rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, then continues to the U.S. capital and the United Nations to publicize his controversial encyclical on the environment.
He hopes the letter will influence the climate change negotiations in Paris in November. It has been criticized by conservatives in the United States. On his first U.S. visit as pope, he also drops in on the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Francis has been credited with helping the United States and Cuba reach their historic rapprochement. After a recent visit to the Vatican, the president of the communist country, Raul Castro, said he was considering returning to the Catholic Church. Religious observance was long banned in Cuba, but the government has backed off its atheist stance. Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba, after St. John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Benedict in 2012.
The papal encyclical is a letter to Catholics everywhere that exhorts care for creation, sustainable development and the impact that climate change is having on the world's poorest people.
On Sep 24 Francis makes history as the first pope to address the US Congress, where he is likely to encounter resistance from the Republican-dominated body to both his advocacy of migration reform and his call for what is referred to by the Vatican as a moral awakening on global warming. The pontiff is also expected to meet President Barack Obama at the White House.
On Sep 25 he takes a similar message to the UN, where world leaders will gather in greater numbers than usual to mark the 70th anniversary of the body and to agree a new set of goals that will define development work for the next 15 years. His U.S. visit finishes at the World Meeting of Families, a rally of some one million Catholics, on Sep 26-27.
Date written/update: 2015-05-19