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.
Remember 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.
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.
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.”
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!