With Pope Francis arriving in America, there are many media sources recollecting the “first” papal visit to the United States by Pope Paul VI. But this isn’t quite correct. Back in 1849, there was a covert visit to the United States by Pope Pius IX. Here’s a video explaining it, or you can read on below for a full explanation of this little known historical fact:
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I’ve only had the opportunity to visit the White House once and after lunch I was shown a portrait of a large ship flying the American and Papal flags. It depicts the first papal visit to the territory of the United States in the person of Pope Pius IX in 1849.
The American USS Constitution (known affectionally as “Old Ironsides”) received onboard King Ferdinand II and Pope Pius IX on Aug 1 1849 giving them a 21-gun salute. By stepping on board an American vessel, the Holy Father officially entered American territory. A commissioned military ship has the same legal status as a piece of political soil. So while Pius IX did not actually enter the borders of the United States, he did technically step foot onto American territory.
The King and Pope received a full tour of Old Ironsides and was even hosted in Captain Gwinn’s quarters. The Holy Father personally met the Catholic sailors on board, blessed them, and spoke with them through an English/Italian interpreter.
To show his appreciation, Pope Pius IX struck a silver medal bearing the pontiff’s coat of arms along with the coat of arms of Captain Gwinn. The Holy Father also sent papally blessed Rosaries to the crew of the Constitution.
When news reached the United States that the Pope of Rome had received hospitality on an American war vessel, the Navy was furious. Commodore Morgan sought to have Captain Gwinn disciplined. However, Gwinn died months later before disciplinary measures could be executed. I’m sure Saint Peter returned the hospitality to Captain Gwinn…
Question: Did you know that a Pope had “entered America” back in 1849? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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