As an associate professor of theology at Providence College, with an expertise in Christian-Muslim relations and as a former consultant to the Vatican, it's not unusual for Dr. Sandra Keating to correspond with leaders of the Catholic Church. But she never expected to hear from the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
"When I got the letter, I opened it up and thought, 'Oh my goodness,'" she said.
The letter was an invitation for Keating to meet Pope Francis when he comes to New York next week.
Keating has been invited, with a few dozen religious scholars, to participate in a small interfaith meeting with the pope inside the 9/11 museum. She says she expects the pope will get a tour and pray at Ground Zero.
"As well as to connect with other leaders and say this is something that we have an obligation as leaders, as religious leaders to help confront in our modern society," she said. "That religion should not be, it should not be connected in the minds of people, with violence."
Despite representing one of the world's largest institutions, Keating feels Pope Francis is a unique person to effect change.
"I think what he brings is a very human and accessible presence," said Keating. "He looks friendly, he speaks in a way that people understand. But he does see himself very much as a shepherd."
And Keating says we should watch for the pope to stray at times from his tightly orchestrated agenda.
"That obviously drives his security forces crazy," she said. "That he's willing to deviate from the script. And I think that makes him appear very authentic - that he's not always speaking from a script, giving a prepared answer or the soundbite."
Despite the low number of regular churchgoers in the U.S., Keating believes the Catholic Church here is still extremely influential thanks to abundant resources and groups of Catholics who are very active.
Keating expects the pope to speak out strongly on many of his key issues, including immigration and displaced people, and how the Catholic Church in the U.S. can be a force for positive change in the world.