With open hearts, we welcome our Holy Father to the U.S.

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that, just a month ahead of his arrival, 52 percent of Americans still did not know that Pope Francis will be visiting the United States in late September. Of course, that was before they read this week’s issue of OSV Newsweekly.

The next 32 pages should leave no doubts in any reader’s mind that the Holy Father’s first visit to America begins Sept. 22 and ends Sept. 27, following his celebration of the concluding Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Preparing for this issue has not been without its challenges. With the World Meeting of Families occurring at exactly the same time as Pope Francis’ journey up the East Coast, we wanted to give fair coverage to the Philadelphia Congress as well as to the events and preparations in Washington, D.C., and New York. Not to mention Cuba.

The result is an expanded, unique collection of pages that covers the basics — such as what’s on Pope Francis’ busy schedule — and still includes the more thoughtful analytical pieces that examine the likely themes of the papal visit and the projected impact of big events like his speeches to Congress and the United Nations. In order to help us maximize space, displaced for this week are the “This Week” page (typically Page 3) and our traditional Letters to the Editor. (Don’t worry, crossword-lovers, the puzzle remains firmly in place.)

In lieu of letters, we asked readers on social media to tell us what they would ask Francis should they be able to bend his ear for five minutes. We narrowed down hundreds of responses to include those most representative of the whole.

With so much of the media focusing on the political and economic impacts of Pope Francis’ trip, we also believed it was important to stress the smaller ways that the Holy Father already has affected the hearts of American Catholics — even before the wheels of Shepherd One have touched down.

For example, a special artistic display in Philadelphia invites those who are weighed down with struggles to unburden themselves by weaving their “knot” into the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto. This depiction of Our Lady is a favorite of Francis and has become popular through his devotion. And in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Catholic Charities (one of Francis’ stops while in the nation’s capital) has started a Walk with Francis pledge that encourages individuals and organizations to pray for the Holy Father, serve others in the community and act to promote everything from human life, to justice and peace, to care for creation in advance of the Holy Father’s arrival.

Such efforts recall the true mission of Pope Francis’ journey, which is one of spiritual leadership. In the same vein, we welcome our Holy Father to the United States and look forward to listening to him, learning from him and opening our hearts to his Gospel message.