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Matt Malone, S.J.May 06, 2015

If someone handed this issue of America to Pope Francis and he was able to spare some precious minutes to read it, he would get a good idea of some of the major issues facing the U.S. church. That was the idea, at least, when we dreamed up this papal preview issue a few months ago. I have to say, after looking through it again, that I think we’ve largely succeeded in painting a portrait of the church Pope Francis will encounter during his pastoral visit to the United States this coming September. It is incomplete, of course; many important issues, events and people didn’t make it into these pages. As always, there’s plenty of additional coverage at our website, including digital-only content, radio and video.

First in the lineup is an excellent article by Mark Gray and his colleagues at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Dr. Gray and his team crunch the demographic numbers of the “average American Catholic.” Like us, you’ll probably find a few surprises in the data. We also welcome Professor Jeffrey Sachs back to these pages with his analysis of the curious intersections of the social gospel and the American economy.

Continuing an editorial theme we set with our special issue on women in the life of the church last year, Elizabeth Tenety looks at the rapidly evolving roles of women in management and other positions of leadership in the U.S. church today. Bishop Gerald Kicanas, meanwhile, looks at another of our consistent editorial themes, immigration, and asks us to move beyond statistics to see the person. Rachel Espinoza and Tawny Hoover bear witness to the graces and challenges encountered by couples who are practicing natural family planning in accord with the church’s teaching and their own consciences. Lastly, as we have done historically for papal visits, we have asked a smattering of American Catholics what they would say or do if they had five minutes with the pope during his visit.

This is a big issue, but its size is appropriate. This is a big country with a big church, and the pope’s visit in the autumn will be unlike any other papal visit or media event in U.S. history. Already the buzz is big and the expectations are high. America’s art director has even designed a logo for this event, which appears on this page and will accompany future coverage of the papal trip.

As exciting as it is to present this issue to you, we do so with heavy hearts. Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., America’s U.S. church correspondent, a true friend and valued colleague, died on April 28 after a battle with cancer. She had an extraordinary career as a Catholic journalist, including nearly 20 years in media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She very much enjoyed her new role here at America, where she was free to express her own opinion and speak in her own voice again. We enjoyed hearing from her. So did our readers; her columns and other writings were popular both in print and on our website.

As this is the last issue of America in which Sister Mary Ann’s name will appear in the masthead to your right, we dedicate this issue to her memory. She was very much looking forward to covering the papal trip. Regrettably, she won’t be reporting on it for us. But she now undoubtedly will have one of the best seats in the house. R.I.P.

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