Ola, Pope, Wish U Were Here! Luv, California

Ola, Pope, Wish U Were Here! Luv, California
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While Francismania sweeps across the mid-Atlantic region this week, not all corners of the nation are pleased with the first papal visit to the United States in more than seven years.

Specifically: the nation-state of California, home to two of the nation’s 10 largest Catholic dioceses (Los Angeles and Orange). 

For among Pope Francis’ activities during his six-day swing through Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia is Wednesday’s Mass of canonization of Junipero Serra at D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – Serra being the 18th century missionary whose bronze likeness stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statutory Hall.

Apparently, the pope didn’t see the need for the personal touch – coming to the West Coast and honoring Serra in the land where he installed the Catholic brand.

Yes, His Holiness turns 79 in December. We should cut him considerable slack when it comes to the rigors of both intercontinental and transcontinental travel, even if the pope doesn’t fly coach or have to worry about his luggage getting lost.

But with all due respect to the Vatican’s brain trust, an otherwise infallible pontiff may have made an error, beginning with the demographic reality of American Catholics leaving America’s Northeast and Midwest for the South and West.

Moreover, there’s something a little … well, political going on here. That His Holiness would choose not to bother with America’s nation-state? It smacks of how America’s biggest political parties treat the Golden State. 

Here’s why: going back to Bill Clinton, Democrats have owned California in presidential contests. Other than golf, Barack Obama’s thinly veiled excuse for coming west is to collect ample amounts of campaign cash. As for Republicans, holders of zero statewide elected offices and a less-than-zero chance of winning the state’s 55 electoral votes in 2016, they view California pretty much through the same conservative prism as they see the pope’s previous stop, Cuba: a rogue island worth embargoing until there’s a change in the ruling mindset.

And so Pope Francis won’t be coming to California – and the Golden State’s papal drought will continue (John Paul II being the last pope to stop by, back in 1987). Which is unfortunate, for the western itinerary all but writes itself. To wit: 

Day One, Sacramento. In July, California Gov. Jerry Brown journeyed to Vatican City to take part in a conference on climate change. In California’s capital city, Francis might have returned the favor by addressing a joint session of the State Legislature. Brown needs the boost: earlier this month, a band of moderate Democrats who disagree with Brown on some aspects of his climate-change agenda handed the governor a rare legislative setback. Perhaps Brown might have asked for something beyond a holy lecture – say, a group exorcism for those lawmakers who strayed from the global-warming flock.

Day Two, San Francisco. Francis, the world’s highest-profile denouncer of income inequality, would find himself in a city that’s a poster child of haves and have-nots (San Francisco’s income inequality is on a par with Rwanda). Hopefully, the papal advance team would have booked a hotel well in advance. Otherwise, in this city overrun by tourism and trade conferences (Salesforce ran out of rooms for its annual confab and rented a cruise ship), His Holiness would have been reduced to scrounging for a room on Airbnb (that is, until later this fall when San Franciscans have a chance to approve the city’s Proposition F, which seeks to curb short-term rentals) and could result in a rash of neighbor-vs.-neighbor lawsuits).    

Day Three, Los Angeles. The rare papal visit screams for an open-air Mass in a shiny new stadium – then again, Angelenos have bickered over building such a venue during the course of the last three papacies. Other than the obligatory prayer for rain, immigration is the obvious topic for Argentinian-born pope in the largest countywide population of Hispanics in all the United States (Argentinians being the 12th of the 14th largest Hispanic origin groups in this country).

Something else for His Holiness to address: quite literally, keeping the faith. According to this Pew Research survey, 55 percent of all U.S. Hispanics identify as Catholic, down from 67 percent in 2010; nearly one in four Hispanic adults are former Catholics.

What’s great about Los Angeles: there’s plenty to do indoors should the heavens open and provide that needed relief. My suggestion: take in a movie. Say, “Black Mass,” the story of a lovely Irish-Catholic gent from Boston who dabbles in murder and extortion, has a complicated relationship with law enforcement, and finds his way to California and a cozy apartment in scenic Santa Monica.

About that apartment: it’s two beds, two baths, two parking spaces and short walk to the beach – all, for only $1,145 in property-crazed Southern California.

Even the pope would have to agree: in California, rent control may be the greatest miracle of all. 

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow who follows California and national politics. He can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.


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