Francis has never been to the US. He went to Jerusalem once but the Yom Kippur War cut his pilgrimage in half. Now he is Pope, he still keeps his trips short and focused
“It is possible that now he is Pope, Bergoglio will continue to be a restrained traveller. So far his trips abroad have been focused and have had a huge impact not just symbolically. He is in no hurry to fill the planisphere with flags.” This is according to Vatican correspondents Lucio Brunelli and Gianni Valente who wrote a long article titled “Lo spazio e il tempo di Papa Francesco”(Pope Francis’ concept of time and space) published in the March issue of Italian geopolitics magazine Limes, entirely dedicate to Francis’ first year in office. “Bergoglio didn’t really travelled much a bishop. He was a street pastor “with the odour of sheep”, which is what he always urges his priests to be. He didn’t have itchy feet, he wasn’t an “airport bishop”. He referred to his diocese as “la mi Esposa”, “my Wife”, alluding to the matrimonial bond between the bishop and the bit of Church he is entrusted with. This bond binds him no to stay away from his wife too long.”
Indeed, he very rarely ventured outside Buenos Aires. The only intercontinental trips he ever made were to the Vatican. He always travelled economy class, never took a cell phone, collaborators or secretaries with him. He travelled strictly for institutional purposes (Consistories, synods etc.) and did so less and less enthusiastically in his final years as archbishop in particular. This was partly because of the toxic surroundings of a Curia that was plagued by conflicts and scandals (“it’s bad for my faith” he told friends in a very serious tone) and partly because given that it was almost time for him to present his resignation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires to Benedict XVI (as per Canon Law, diocesan bishops must submit their resignation to the Pope on reaching the age of 75), he didn’t want to give the impression he was going to Rome to try and get his mandate extended, Brunelli and Valente write.
Even when in Italy, he rarely went to visit other cities a part from a quick visit to his distant relatives in Piemonte. The Pope who took the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, had never actually been to Assisi before 4 October 2013. He also only visited Cagliari – home to the Marian shrine of Bonaria which has deep spiritual ties with the Argentinean Church because Buenos Aires was named after this shrine in the 16th century – as Bishop of Rome on 22 September.
“Another interesting and emblematic geopolitical fact,” the two authors write, is that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Pope from the Americas, has never once set foot in the US.” Of all the Popes the Church has had over the past eighty years, the only Pope that hadn’t been to the heart of the “Western Empire” before his pontificate and didn’t go during it was Angelo Roncalli. All the rest did, even before becoming Peter’s Successors: Eugenio Pacelli, Giovanni Battista Montini, Karol Wojtyla, Joseph Ratzinger…
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII was the first Vatican Secretary of State to go on a pastoral or diplomatic mission to the US. In 1934 he was invited to Buenos Aires (Bergoglio wasn’t born yet) as a Pontifical delegate to the World Eucharistic Congress. In 1936 he went to the United States to meet US President Roosevelt.
In 1951, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Paul VI, travelled to the US and Canada, when the Cold War was in full swing. He went to America again in 1960 and visited Brazil that same year. Then in 1962, the year before he was elected Pope he visited Africa for the first time. “These were Popes with a diplomatic background, unlike Francis who comes from the pastoral life “front”,” Brunelli and Valente said. “So of course they travelled more. But Francis shares this uniqueness, this scarce propensity to leave his diocese and his flock, with another Pope-pastor, John Paul II.”
Before he became a globe-trotter Pope, Karol Wojtyla went on many international trips when he was Archbishop of Krakow. In 1976 he spent three weeks in the US, where he was invited to tea at the White House by Gerald Ford.
“Bergoglio’s decision to limit his travels to essential journeys is not a sign of cultural provincialism or a preconceived closure to the western world. It is the conscious expression of a precise pastoral choice: rooting oneself in one’s diocese, being close to the faithful, living a lifestyle that is devoid of luxury and anything superfluous so as not to outrage the poor and copying as closely as possible the kind of lifestyle Jesus Christ led,” the two authors write in the article published in Limes magazine.
There was only one non work related trip Bergoglio has been keen to go on. And that is to the Holy Land. It was 1973 and he had only been Provincial Father of the Jesuits a few months when he received an invitation from the Israeli government and he accepted it. He stayed in the legendary American Colony in Jerusalem’s Arab quarter. “He put down his suitcases, took a stroll around the Old City and prayed at the Holy Sepulchre. Bergoglio’s pilgrimage basically ended there. It was early October when the Yom Kippur War suddenly broke out and for security reasons Bergoglio spent most of his time stuck in the hotel. The only other two places he managed to see was Bethlehem and Ein Karem.”
This explains why Francis whilst not renouncing journeys completely limits his travels to essential trips and when he does travel he tries to keep them as short as possible so he is not away from Rome long: he is only going to be spending three days and two nights in the Holy Land when he embarks on his pilgrimage in May and just four days (plus one day of travel) in Korea this coming August.