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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

NY politicians embrace papal visit

Pope Francis is seen on March 19, 2013.

Pope Francis is seen on March 19, 2013. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, a Catholic from Arizona, says he is boycotting the appearance of Pope Francis I at the Capitol, citing the pontiff's "socialist" stance on climate change.

Few among New York's elected officials will care for such protests.

Around here, most see only a risk-free plus side in embracing Francis.

The city's confessedly nonreligious mayor, Bill de Blasio, seems especially determined to bask in the popular outpouring. His mother, who raised him, was a lapsed Catholic. This week the mayor, known for linking himself with broader progressive movements, applied a couple of his favorite adjectives, "historic" and "amazing," to the pope's visit.

At City Hall on Monday, de Blasio gave a group of Staten Island Catholic school students tickets for Central Park to see a church leader whose voice, he said, "is the most important voice on this earth."

The mayor praised the pope for "cutting through" the contentious rhetoric on immigrants, defended his statements in Cuba from criticism by GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio, and said Francis is "putting his teachings into action by calling people to account" on climate change -- and promoting a "moral structure" that is "inclusive."

And de Blasio and other elected officials are clearly aware of the special resonance the visit will have in Latino communities.

For his part, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday at Harlem's Mount Neboh Baptist Church: "Pope Francis really has transcended just Catholics, just Christians. You have people of all different religions who have been captured by Pope Francis."

Sen. Chuck Schumer has, of course, been in the mix. Cardinal Timothy Dolan asked him to join the gaggle greeting Francis at the door at St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday. Schumer's office held a lottery to give away 100 pairs of tickets for the papal audience on the West Lawn of the Capitol. (Getting to give stuff away is one of the joys of a politician's job.)

State Conservative Party chairman Michael Long, a Catholic, is traveling to Washington for the congressional address of the pope, who has criticized capitalist excesses. "I will see it and respect the fact that he's here," Long said.

But Long expressed the hope that Francis on his visit will receive messages from Americans about "what capitalism has done for the world -- including the Catholic Church."

"He clearly has a philosophy on politics and government affairs that is not in sync with John Paul II," who along with President Ronald Reagan helped to "bring down the communist nation and the wall with Germany," Long said.

"John Paul was clearly a strong anti-communist, as was Pope Benedict, who was a strong conservative," said the leader of the state's biggest alternative party.

And while Long said he believes the moral doctrine of the church will survive, Francis "has probably made it more uncomfortable for conservative Catholics."

For contrast, consider this upbeat assessment Tuesday from the Sierra Club: "Pope Francis arrives in Washington today, bringing approval ratings that are the envy of every politician. While the capital seems hopelessly divided, Americans are united in support of Francis's leadership. This is cause for hope."

So as Mahatma Gandhi famously stated: "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is."


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