Bells to toll for pope's US arrival

AFP , Saturday 19 Sep 2015

Pope Francis (Photo:Reuters)

Pope Francis is set to arrive in Cuba on Saturday for a trip that will take him next week to the United States for the first time.

The following are briefs about the pope's upcoming visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia:

Fifty-six bells will toll when Pope Francis touches down at Andrews Air Force base outside the US capital Tuesday to begin his first-ever US visit.

The bells belong to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America that also ranks among the 10 biggest in the world.

It's here that the pontiff will lead his first mass -- to canonize Franciscan friar and missionary Junipero Serra -- that is expected to draw some 40,000 people.

The basilica, Byzantine-Romanesque in style and topped by a golden and blue dome, is dedicated to the patroness of the United States, the Virgin Mary.

Francis will celebrate the mass on the basilica's east portico from a specially crafted altar that pays homage to the Vatican's recent encyclical letter to bishops on the environment and global warming, with its use of recycled fiberboard and American-sourced poplar and cherry veneer.

In California, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy and other faith leaders will be launching "40 Days of Faithful Action" on Sunday with an interfaith event at the US-Mexico border.

To spotlight the plight of separated immigrant families, they will unveil a so-called Wall of Lament between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.

Organizers say they are acting on the pope's "message of compassion, respect for human dignity and love all of God's creation."

They have also planned events in support of Francis's trip to a Philadelphia jail.

"I ask you to join me in praying for my trip to Cuba and the United States. I need your prayers," Pope Francis tweeted Friday.

Twitter is the pontiff's preferred social media platform. Boasting nearly 23 million followers, he uses it to reach out to his flock in nine languages.

US federal government workers have been encouraged to work from home if possible during the pope's visit to Washington.

The Office of Personnel Management has said that while the government will stay open, agencies are "strongly" encouraged to "allow employees to telework to keep the government operating while helping to minimize traffic congestion and support law enforcement efforts during this event."

If possible, employees are encouraged to use vacation time during the September 22-24 visit.

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