September was one of the most important months of the Pope's year, as he made his first visits to the United States and Cuba. He spent a lot of time preparing for the trip, and he even went out to get a new pair of frames ahead of the voyage.
People couldn't believe their eyes. Pope Francis was visiting an optometrist near Piazza del Popolo. It wasn't long before locals and tourists gathered outside for a chance to see the Pope.
However, that crowd was nothing compared to the one that awaited the Pope when he landed in Havana. He spoke about the newly developed ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
"I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace.”
The next day, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución. He spoke about the importance of service.
"There is a kind of 'service' which truly 'serves,' yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a 'service' which is 'self-serving.' There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping 'my people,' 'our people.' .”
Pope Francis also met with young Cubans. He delivered a hopeful address and issued a challenge to them.
"Open yourself, open yourself, and dream. Dream that the world with you can be different. Dream that you are going to help make the world better. Don't forget it.”
He also made a visit to Fidel Castro, who became Prime Minister of Cuba just months after the Pope became a Novice in the Society of Jesus.
Although Cuban state television did not divulge what the two discussed, it was clear that their conversation covered a lot of terrain. During part of the meeting, the Pope's face appeared serious.
After three nights on the island, Pope Francis departed for the United States. Cheering crowds welcomed the Pope as his plane landed in Washington, D.C. He stepped into a Fiat 500 that captured America's attention for the rest of the trip.
Speaking at the White House, the Pope said it was important "to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family.” He added that American Catholics hope to live in a just society.
"With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”
Pope Francis did not disappoint in his speech to Congress. He weighed in on the death penalty, refugees, and countless other issues. This line produced the biggest applause.
"We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”
Speaking at the United Nations the next day, Pope Francis linked his support for the environment with his opposition to gender ideology.
"The defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman, and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.”
The emotional high point of his trip to the United States may have come during a visit to Ground Zero in New York. Although he was at a place of great pain and suffering, the Pope delivered a hopeful speech.
"In the depths of pain and suffering, you also witnessed the heights of generosity and service. Hands reached out, lives were given. This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction.”
When Pope Francis spoke at the World Meeting of Families, he set down his prepared remarks and gave a passionate talk about how strong families lead to strong societies.
"God plans so that our hearts be open. He likes to open hearts. It comes from Him. But you know what He likes most. To knock on the doors of families and to find families who love each other. Families who bring up their children to grow and help them move forward.”
During his final meeting with U.S. bishops, Pope Francis began by recounting a meeting he just had with victims of sexual abuse.
"It continues to make me feel overwhelming ashamed that people who were in charge of the tender care of those small children violated them and caused them serious harm. I deeply regret it. God weeps.”
One of his last visits was to a prison in Philadelphia. He had tough words for prison systems that don't focus on rehabilitation.
"He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”
Later that day, he boarded an American Airlines flight and headed home after one of the most important weeks of his papacy.