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Local Catholic Leader in D.C. for Papal Visit

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usccb.org
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Pope Francis arrived Tuesday in Washington, D-C, to kick off his four-day visit to the United States. Among those waiting to greet him is Bishop Gregory Parkes, who shepherds the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese.

“We don’t know what he’s going to say, it’s going to be a ‘pastoral’ visit, so he’ll be speaking as a pastor, as the leader of the Catholic Church,” Parkes said. “His reason for coming to the United States is to participate in the World Meetings of Families, which will take place in Philadelphia [on Saturday].

The Pontiff is scheduled to spend Wednesday and Thursday in the nation’s capital, including a prayer service at midday Wednesday at St. Matthew’s Cathedral with the Bishops of the United States.

On Thursday morning, Francis becomes the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress. Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the encyclical on the environment issued by the Pope in June, in which he blames global warming on an unfair industrial model based on fossil fuels, and he said it harms the poor the most. Parkes says the Pope is not speaking as a scientist, and the encyclical is not a research paper.

“While I know there are differing opinions on climate change and global warming,” Parkes said, “Our Holy Father is simply acknowledging the ideas and thoughts that are widely published, and calling on us to a greater dialogue with how to address those issues.”

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Bishop Gregory Parkes

For Parkes, this is a reunion of sorts with Pope Francis, who is the third pontiff he has met since his ordination as a priest 16 years ago. Also attending is Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association. She was in Pensacola Monday for the announcement of a new Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart Health System. Keehan is looking forward to hearing Francis, who she says is “going in all the right directions.”

“He is really speaking about what it takes to really live our faith,” Keehan said. “Not the judgmental, not the tough standards, but what it takes to really care about the people that we live with, and the people of the world. He’s got so much to offer.”

In comparing Pope Francis to his immediate predecessors, Bishop Gregory Parkes says each has given to the Church various gifts and talents.

“I would say that Pope Francis, just being in his presence, you have such a great feeling of peace,” Parkes said. “He speaks almost as a grandfather in a very loving, in a very caring, but yet a passionate way as well. I think that what people like about him.”

Pope Francis is the fourth pontiff to visit the United States. Pope Paul the VI was the first in 1965, followed by John Paul II, who made seven trips between 1979 and 1999, and Benedict XVI in 2008.