Bishop Robert Muench to meet Pope Francis next week, says he'll convey message from Baton Rouge Catholics _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Bishop Robert Muench blesses palm fronds with Holy Water as he observes a Palm Sunday ceremony Sunday morning before he and the congregation walk back to the Cathedral for Palm Sunday Mass carrying palm fronds.

Baton Rouge’s Bishop Robert Muench will join the scores of people, ranging from celebrities to schoolchildren, who will meet Pope Francis next week when he visits the United States for the first time.

Muench and other bishops will celebrate Mass with the pope Wednesday in Washington, D.C., when Francis canonizes a new saint, Junipero Serra. Francis also will lead a midday prayer for the U.S. bishops, including Muench, earlier in the day.

Though Muench is one of more than 1 million people expected to travel to see the pope, Baton Rouge’s bishop is one of the lucky few who actually will get to meet him.

Muench will “convey to the Holy Father the love and prayers of the members of the Baton Rouge Diocese,” according to a statement released by the diocese.

Diocese spokeswoman Donna Carville said Muench was out of the office and unable to be interviewed.

Francis arrives in the United States on Tuesday. He will meet political leaders in Washington, D.C., hold a multireligious ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and join the Festival of Families in Philadelphia.

But Francis also will reach out to the more lowly members of society, as he will visit schoolchildren in East Harlem, New York, and prisoners in Philadelphia.

Many of the pope’s events that are expected to draw large crowds have distributed tickets to members of nearby church parishes.

About 25,000 people are expected to attend the ticket-required Mass for the canonization of Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Serra was a Spanish Franciscan who founded missions in California during the 1700s. It will be the first canonization Mass celebrated on U.S. soil.

Tickets also were distributed to a lucky 19,000 New Yorkers for the Mass Francis will celebrate at Madison Square Garden.

Francis’ few events that will be open to the public will happen in Philadelphia, where actor Mark Wahlberg will host a lineup of performers for the pope at the Festival of Families. Aretha Franklin and comedian Jim Gaffigan are among those who will put their talents on display.

Though the Festival of Families and a Mass that Francis will celebrate in Philadelphia are open to the public, organizers made some tickets available for people to get the closest access. Tickets were free and gone within minutes of becoming available.

Scalpers quickly started reselling them on sites like Craigslist, a practice visit organizers have condemned. One Craigslist seller on Thursday was asking buyers to pay $250 apiece for the Philadelphia papal Mass tickets that had been distributed for free.

Francis is the fourth pope to visit the United States. The first was Blessed Paul VI in 1965, followed by Saint John Paul II and then Pope Benedict XVI.

John Paul II appointed Muench as Baton Rouge’s bishop in 2001. Catholic Diocese archives also show Muench meeting Benedict in 2012.

After spending six days in the United States, Francis will return to Rome on Sept. 27.

People in Baton Rouge will be able to watch much of the pope’s visit on Catholic Life Television, which is Cox channel 15.