fb-pixel Skip to main content

Walsh to visit Rome for conference with Pope Francis

Martin Walsh is listed in the program as one of 50 mayors who will attend the conference with Pope Francis.Scott Eisen for The Globe/File/Globe Freelance

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who credits his Catholic faith with helping him overcome cancer as a child and alcoholism as an adult, will travel to the Vatican next week for an audience with Pope Francis.

Walsh will be one of 50 mayors from the world’s most prominent cities to attend a papal conference on human trafficking and climate change.

“I don’t get in awe of many people,” Walsh said Wednesday on City Hall Plaza. “I think I’ll get awed by the pope.”

Faith has played a defining role in the life of Boston’s mayor, who often keeps a rosary in his pocket so he can touch the beads.


As a child, Walsh was diagnosed with cancer and given two months to live. His mother prayed, asking God to spare her boy and vowing to take him to holy shrines, including Knock in Ireland and Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Walsh beat cancer. His mother kept her word and took him to the shrines. Mother and son returned to Knock again last year when the mayor visited Ireland. The native villages of both Walsh’s parents held special Masses in his honor.

For the trip to Rome, the mayor will travel with Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a longtime confidant Walsh tapped to serve as the city’s chief lawyer. O’Flaherty also traveled with Walsh to Ireland. The mayor said Wednesday that O’Flaherty wrote the city’s new human trafficking law.

The last time Walsh was in the presence of a pope was in 1979, when he was a 12-year-old standing outside St. Margaret’s Church in Dorchester for Pope John Paul II’s visit.

“I saw the pope drive by me at about 55 miles per hour,” Walsh said with a smile. “He was late.”

The mayor said he will bring two items to be blessed by the pope. One will be a prayer book that belonged to his paternal grandmother. The book was printed in 1916, the year of the Easter Rising in Ireland. The second item will be rosary beads from his maternal grandfather.


Walsh will fly to Rome on Sunday night and arrive on Monday afternoon. He will attend the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday and return to Boston on Thursday.

The Vatican will pay for Walsh’s travel, according to his spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri. The city will cover the expenses for one staffer and two security personnel, which will cost roughly $12,000, Oggeri said.

The conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is titled “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities.” According to the Vatican, it will bring together mayors, local administrators, and religious leaders from major cities around the world.

Attendees from the United States are scheduled to include Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland, Ore.; Mayor Sam Liccardo of San José, Calif.; Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle; Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco; Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis; Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans; and Mayor Matthew Appelbaum of Boulder, Colo.

Other leaders expected to attend include Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa of Mexico City, Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, and Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome.

According to the Vatican, the main objective of the conference is for mayors to join the religious leaders and ask the United Nations to declare human trafficking a crime against humanity.


The Vatican also wants to “put moral pressure on the UN to make sure that the new Sustainable Development Goals” are approved to address climate change, according to a program for the conference.

The trip to Rome will be Walsh’s third international excursion since taking office. He spent nearly two weeks in Ireland last fall. This spring, he took a vacation with his long-time girlfriend to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean.

This summer, he has spent significant time on a plane.

Walsh has flown to Colorado for the Aspen Ideas Festival and made two trips to the San Francisco area: One for the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors, and another to speak to the US Olympic Committee in support of Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Games.

Walsh said his itinerary included “an audience with the pontiff.”

“It’s incredible,” Walsh said. “There’s not many people I’d get excited about. The pope is a person I’d be honored to meet.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.