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10 Catholic Spots to Put On Your Own Papal Tour in DC

Photograph courtesy of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
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When he arrives September 22, Pope Francis becomes the fourth consecutive pontiff to make a trip to DC. His day and a half in town barely give him time to hit the major Roman Catholic sites. He’d need a week to scout the city’s deep Catholic history.

1. Joint Base Andrews

Photograph by Gerald Herbert/AP Photo.

Francis touches down at Andrews, where George W. Bush—who met with the sitting pope more than any other President—personally greeted Francis’s predeces- sor, Benedict XVI (above), in 2008. It’s believed to be the first time a US Presi- dent met a visiting head of state’s plane. President Obama is greeting Francis at the St. Andrews Air Force Base.*

2. St. Patrick’s Church

Francis is to stop at St. Pat’s (as well as the Catholic Charities headquarters around the corner). The parish, dating to 1794, served the stonemasons building the White House and US Capitol. Washington was then part of the diocese of Baltimore.

3. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

Photograph by Charles J Westgate III.

Home to monks of the order founded by the saint Pope Francis is named for, the monastery might remind the pontiff of home: Catacombs snake under the property’s 42 acres, harboring, among other things, the bones of a Roman soldier and the skull of a child killed for being Christian.

4. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Collection at the Catholic University Archives

Photograph by Bachrach/Getty Images.

Famous for his ’60s TV show, Sheen left letters and other artifacts to Catholic U. Open to the public by appointment.

5. Saint John Paul II National Shrine

Photograph courtesy of the Knights of Columbus.

This monumental modern building in Northeast DC houses relics of the recently canonized former pope’s body: an ampoule of his blood and the bloodstained cassock he wore when he was shot in 1981.

6. The Exorcist Steps

Photograph by Alamy.

At the climax of the 1973 movie of William Peter Blatty’s novel, Father Karras dies on these stairs above M Street, creating one of Georgetown’s most visited sites.

7. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The Basilica dome. Photograph courtesy of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Below the basilica, a crypt holds the body of shrine founder Bishop Thomas J. Shahan as well as the triple tiara—the headgear symbolizing the popes’ temporal power—rejected by Paul IV in 1964. Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass here, in North America’s largest Roman Catholic place of worship, on September 23.

8. Gonzaga High School

The Jesuit school, alma mater of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, among other prominent locals, is the oldest educational institution in DC.

9. Carbery House

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At 17th and C, Northwest, once stood the home of DC mayor Thomas Carbery. In 1824, Carbery’s ill sister, Ann, is said to have been cured by prayers from German priest Prince Alexander Hohenloh.

10. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Grave

Photograph by Edwin Remsburg/Alamy.

First barred from a Catholic burial, the author was moved, with wife Zelda, from Rockville Cemetery to nearby St. Mary’s Church in 1975 with the blessing of Archbishop William Baum.

*Update: President Obama will be meeting Pope Francis at St. Andrews Air Force Base. It was previously reported that the president would meet the pope at the White House.

Correction: This article originally said Maryland governor Larry Hogan attended Gonzaga.

Matt Blitz is head of the Obscura Society D.C.

This article appears in our September 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

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