Pope Francis: The First Year

Before Pope Francis was elected over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled “What Would You Like to Say to the Next Pope?”  (See archives, February 25, 2013).  In it I expressed several wishes for the next pope. Some of those wishes were fulfilled way beyond my dreams. I’d like to recall a few of those wishes here and then I’ll say a few words about Pope Francis himself.

pope francis wavingRemember us: I urged the next pope to go outside the wall that encloses the Vatican and mingle with the people. I suggested that he talk not only at people but with them. In his first year, the Pope has certainly done this, popping up everywhere—in soup kitchens, prisons, refugee camps, children’s clinics, juvenile detention centers, and churches all over the place. For the synod on the family, he solicited input from actual families.

Have good women friends. Pope Francis has even spoken openly about some of his women friends.

Make time to play with children. I love the pictures of him not only holding babies and kissing children, but even allowing children to play with his skull cap and sit on his chair during audiences.

pope francis and boy pop francis and child

Stay human. Of all my wishes, this one certainly has been fulfilled a hundredfold. Before becoming pope he was noted for actually living with the poor, riding public transportation, doing his own cooking. After his election he eschewed the palace apartments for more simple accommodations, he paid his own hotel bill, he rode a bus with the cardinals instead of his private limo, and he donned regular shoes and a simple pectoral cross. In his first public appearance on the balcony as pope, he begged the throngs in St. Peter Square to pray for him.

Venerate Tradition. Be Open to Change. Fulfilling this wish is like walking a tight rope. Yet he gives evidence of being able to do this. He can give a beautiful talk on the Eucharist. At the same time he communicates with over 10 million followers on Twitter.

A person is known by the company he or she keeps. The Vatican website (www.vatican.va) logs the various groups Pope Francis has met with during this past year. Here is a tiny sampling: engaged couples, teenagers, cardinals and bishops, the blind and the deaf, parents of children to be baptized, prisoners, journalists, the European Parliament, Vatican janitors and gardeners, couples soon to be married, and the European Olympic Committee.

pope francis and red nose

A couple to be married who use humor therapy with sick children, presented the Holy Father with a clown nose–which he promptly donned.

The Vatican website gives us not only a calendar of the Pope’s activities, but also his various addresses, messages, homilies, exhortations, and encyclicals. Here is a sampling of the topics the Pope has spoken about: Jesus (of course!), ecology, temptation, evangelization, faith, Mary, St. Joseph, priests, prayer, St. Ignatius, hope, pro-life issues, the elderly and sick, consecrated life, Nelson Mandela, clericalism, the holocaust, politics, economic issues, sexual abuse of children, sports, our throw-away culture, anti-Semitism, Eucharistic devotion, the Orthodox Churches, and Vatican financial policies.

A few of his actions reveal his humanness and holiness. A while ago someone gave the Pope a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and leather jacket. Several months later he autographed them and auctioned them off bringing in $284,000 for the bike and $70,000 for the jacket. The money was given to renovate a local charity: a hostel and soup kitchen at Rome’s central train station that serves 1,000 individuals a day.

At one gathering on Pentecost Sunday, the crowd began to chant “Francis! Francis!” He quieted them down saying, “From now on, no more ‘Francis,’ only ‘Jesus,’ all right?”

The Pope had to renew his passport. He decided to keep his Argentine passport. In the renewing process he asked for no special privileges. He submitted to the normal requirements: photo, fingerprints, signature. Said Argentina’s Minister of the Interior and Transportation, “His choice to travel the world using the same document as any other Argentinean fills us with pride.”

The Pope phoned a Carmelite monastery in Spain to wish the Sisters a Happy New Year. No one answered so he left a message on their voice mail saying he would call back later. He did.

A young man presented the Pope with a T-shirt. A man with the boy mentioned that their parish sold these shirts for 5 euro to support various parish projects. The Pope reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed the man 10 euros. Then he asked for change.

The Pope’s quotes are very popular and challenging. “Holiness means letting God write our history”…”Gossip is rotten…It fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us”…”We must not reduce the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity”…”Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.”…”Today the news is scandal. But the many children who don’t have food–that’s not news. This is grave”…”Oh, how I would like a poor church, and for the poor”…Being Christian is “not a label”; it is “a way to live.”

pope francis and lamb

Pope Francis, always the good shepherd.

What are some of your thoughts about Pope Francis?

PS: Thank you for your prayers for this past weekend’s retreat at St. Francis Spiritual Center in Tiffin, Ohio. What a great group of people we had! This coming Saturday I’m leading a retreat day sponsored by the Steubenville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. We’re expecting up to 200 women. The topic is “Celebrating God’s Presence in Nature.” I would appreciate prayers for all of us. Thank you!

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  1. Kathleen Magiera on March 31, 2014 at 5:40 am

    Thanks for all the commentary about Pope Francis Sr. Melannie. It is amazing what he had done in one year! God is using him every day to touch the world.

    Most recently I watched him go to confession publicly. What a wonderful example of humility for all of us.


  2. Nancy Frederico on March 31, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Thank you Sr. Melannie for this wonderful summary of Pope Francis!
    I admire his genuineness and sincere concern for all peoples and countries. His happiness shows when he mingles with the ordinary crowds afterwards. He truly was chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead and guide the Church. His noon meditations always hit home for me! I read them on Living Bread Radio’s website and I smile when he ends them with “have a nice lunch”!

    Prayers coming your way, especially this weekend in Steubenville!
    Thanks for all you do for others! May God continue to bless you and your work!

  3. dion on March 31, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Thank you for your words on Francis. I agree with you 100%. I recently attended the weekend at John Carroll University, “The Papacy: One Year Later.” One of the speakers spoke of his first significant moment before the world. It occurred when he appeared on the balcony to be introduced as the new Holy Father. ledge,He told us that his actions and words were very important. He asked the people to pray OVER him, to bless him. He bent over, placed his head down, saying before I bless you I ask you to bless your bishop, to pray over me. Simply beautiful! Thanks, Melannie.

  4. Theresa on March 31, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Thank you Melannie. I really enjoyed your article on Pope Francis. I feel that he has touched the youth in this country also. My three teens have mentioned him countless times in the past year, in a positive way. My 17 year old son Vincent, who attends a public high school , wrote a very pro Pope Francis article for his school newspaper. In my neck of the woods, children are often criticized for their Christian beliefs by their peers. One student actually told my daughter that she was “uncomfortable” to sit next to her in class . She was uncomfortable because of the fact that she knew that my daughter was a Christian and attended mass. This is the kind of upside down world young people are faced with today. Pope Francis seems to be putting a dent in this craziness. His example shows that “Christianity is not a label, but a way to live.” It is a way of love and humility and kindness.

  5. Bozo on March 31, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Prayers coming your way for your retreat in Steubenville. Thank you for this article on our wonderful pope, so humble and charitable. He’s such a breath of fresh air.

  6. Mary Schneider on March 31, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Pope Francis’ humility is a wonder to behold! I find him to be truly the Pope for all peoples. He encourages us to embrace simplicity of life, detachment from material things, tender mercy for all, and on and on. Thank God for this marvelous man!

  7. Kathy OFS on March 31, 2014 at 11:52 am

    This is truly a blessing to see such a wonderful Pope Francis. He may be Jesuit but I say he is Franciscan all the way. He makes me proud to be a third order Franciscan. He brings the gospel alive for me. Jesus said let the children come and this is what the pope did it tickled me to see the little boy go up to him and tug at him that is priceless. I hope he takes some of the fancy things away from those who live it up high seems he already did it with a bishop but not positive as I only saw a brief item on comp. Jesus had a simple cup and altar why can’t we? Dripping in Gold and Crystal is not necessary the poor need this money spent. God Bless Kathy OFS Siochan Agus Maitheas

  8. Amy @ Love and Be Loved on March 31, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    So happy to read your thoughts on the Pope. I really enjoyed your wishes for what our new pope might be – they made me smile. And so nice to read how he has fulfilled these wishes, or more accurately, how God has fulfilled these wishes through him. It is a blessing to see and know and hear and feel the Spirit at work in the world. This is the Kingdom in our midst, is it not? May we all be open to the Spirit, aware of the Spirit’s presence, and respond to the Spirit’s prompting, with Pope Francis as our inspiration!
    All Love and Light to you, Sr. Melanie,
    PS – a friend of mine has a son graduating from Franciscan University at Steubenville this Spring, and he and his sister are being confirmed there this Easter. Blessings on your retreat!

  9. Tom on March 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for the recap of Pope Francis’s first year. Isn’t it amazing that the concept of his “reigning” as pope never enters our minds?

  10. Barbara Hirn on March 31, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Oh how I thank God for this man, Francis. He is bringing the church back to the people.

  11. Kathleen V Noftsker on March 31, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    I agree with you, Melannie, on all you’ve said about Francis. I find it questionable, however, that there is not one statement regarding the equality of women in the church. I know Francis has said we are all sisters and brothers, but according to church law, the sisters are not equal to the brothers.

    Is it not ludicrous that a gathering of bishops…all male, celebate, living in their secluded rectories, having women doing their laundry and cook their meals….meet to legislate what women should do with their bodies?

    I love Francis too, but until this vital subject is seriously addressed, it is a warm, my arm’s around you approach to …”business as usual”.

  12. David Cavilla on April 1, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Pope Francis is probably the best thing that has happened to the Church in years! Well done Holy Spirit! And your papal “wish list” appears almost prophetic Melanie!

  13. Madeleine Hennessy on April 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Thank you for your penetrating thoughts about Pope Francis. He is doing God’s assignment for him. Pope Francis gives us hope.

  14. florence on April 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I agree with all of the above. Love that man, the warmth he exudes. I hope many priests are using him as an example.
    I have introduced a friend to your site, and she is pleased.

  15. Judy T. on April 7, 2014 at 11:32 am

    One word comes to my mind, simplicity, when I reflect on what our new Pope and Sr. Melannie Svoboda have in common. Having just experienced sister’s talk for the Steubenville diocese women, I am reminded that my love and respect for creation is the basic foundation that I want to build my faith upon. Thank you, God, for Pope Francis, Sr. Melannie and everything from A-Z in this wonderful world I live in!

  16. Kathy Gruber on April 10, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Dear Sister, I did. It the last 2 newsletter from April,7. And. 9 th.
    Please pray for my nrother John who,has a blood clot.
    I also need your E mail address. Thank you , Kathy

  17. Kathy Gruber on April 10, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Sorry, typing error. I did not get the last 2 newsletter from. April 7 and 9 th. Also pray for my brother. Thank you.

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