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Pope Francis gives his speech during his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his audience for members of the International Pilgrimage of the Ministrants at St Peter's Square on July 31, 2018 in Vatican City. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
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MALMO, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31:  Pope Francis gives a speech during the 'Together in Hope' event at Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. The Pope is on 2 days visit attending Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Lund and Malmo.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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MALMO, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31: Pope Francis gives a speech during the 'Together in Hope' event at Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. The Pope is on 2 days visit attending Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Lund and Malmo. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart".
During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven.
Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
Reuters
On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart". During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven. Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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A general view shows the crowd during the Easter Sunday mass on April 16, 2017 at St Peter's square in Vatican. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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A general view shows the crowd during the Easter Sunday mass on April 16, 2017 at St Peter's square in Vatican. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis meets with Polish bishops at Wawel royal castle in Krakow, on July 27, 2016 during World Youth Days.
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Pope Francis meets with Polish bishops at Wawel royal castle in Krakow, on July 27, 2016 during World Youth Days. Pope Francis heads to Poland for an international Catholic youth festival with a mission to encourage openness to migrants. / AFP / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016.     / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29:  Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Pope Francis is visiting three East Coast cities in his first visit to the United States

CNN/ORC Poll: Nearly half of Americans, 78% of Catholics are looking forward to his visit

About 76% of Catholics say Francis' views are "about right" -- not too liberal or conservative

CNN —  

As Pope Francis visits the United States for the first time, a new CNN/ORC Poll finds the head of the Catholic Church is largely viewed favorably nationwide and that most Catholics approve of his comments even on controversial issues.

And he’s arriving in a country that seems glad to greet him: Nearly half of Americans and 78% of Catholics said they were looking forward to the Pope’s trip to the United States.

Impressions of Francis have gotten slightly less positive since December 2013, about nine months into his papacy, when 83% of American Catholics had a favorable view of him. Still, with nearly three-quarters of Catholics holding a positive view of Francis, impressions of the Pope remain broadly positive.

The church itself is viewed positively by 60% of Americans, while 63% view Pope Francis favorably. Among Catholics, the church (88% favorable) outperforms the Pope (74% favorable), though that difference stems more from Catholics who say they’re not sure about Francis than from more negative impressions. (To put that in context, just 9% view Francis unfavorably compared to 10% who say they see the church unfavorably.)

The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone September 4-8 among a random national sample of 1,012 adults. The sample included 196 self-identified Catholics. For results among the full sample of adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points, it is 7 points for Catholics.

Among non-Catholics, 61% say they have a positive view of Francis, and just over half of those are looking forward to his visit. (A relatively small percentage – 17% – of those with a negative view of the Pope are nonetheless looking forward to his visit.)

The Pope’s trip will take him to Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Residents of the Northeast are most excited for the papal visit, with 59% saying they’re looking forward to it. The level of excitement is lower elsewhere: 54% of Midwesterners as well as just over 4 in 10 in the West (44%) and the South (41%).

This jives with the pontiff’s overall favorability ratings by region. Some 74% in the Northeast view him favorably, a figure that dips to 66% in the Midwest, 60% in the South and 56% in Western states.

Looking back at the most recent three Popes, Catholics are most apt to say that Francis’s teachings are most closely in line with their own personal values (48%) followed by recently sainted Pope John Paul II (42%). Just 9% say Benedict XVI’s teachings are closest to their views.

Among those Catholics who say they attend services at least monthly, a majority say Francis’s teachings are most closely aligned with their own, 53% compared with 39% who feel closest to John Paul II and 7% who say Benedict XVI’s teachings most resembled their views.

Assessing Francis’s positions on issues, a broad majority of Catholics (76%) say they are “about right,” while 18% see him as too liberal and 7% as too conservative. The share who say his views are too liberal has climbed since December 2013, when 7% made such an assessment. A vast majority – 77% of American Catholics – also see the Pope as “in touch with the modern world,” while 18% see him as out of touch with modern life.

Toward the end of Pope John Paul II’s life, he fared worse on these measures, with 53% saying he was out of touch with the modern world, and 33% describing his positions on the issues as “too conservative” as of fall 2003.

Francis’s positive reviews come through in American Catholics’ mostly positive ratings of his comments on the church’s role in protecting the environment (73% approve), the role of women in the church (67% approve), and the church’s position toward gays and lesbians (63% approve), abortion and contraception (57% approve) plus capitalism and the effects of a free market economy on the poor (57% approve).

And following the Pope’s highly publicized release of an encyclical on climate change and a focus on the economic challenges facing the poor, most Catholics (78%) think Francis is spending the right amount of time on issues such as those two that some past popes had not focused on. Just 16% say that Francis is spending too much time on those issues, and 5% say that they would like to see him spend more time on those issues.