“Habemus Papam! “We have a Pope!” Moments after the announcement an elderly man stepped forward, appearing a bit dazed and raising his hand in greeting. Far from a sweeping gesture to a large crowd, it was a simple “hello.” And his greeting to the crowd? “Good evening.”
His face broke into a smile as he addressed the hundreds of thousands before him. His voice was soft, gentle. Before giving the crowd his blessing (the Urbi et Orbi), he asked a favor: could they pray for him? Then he bowed low and the crowd grew silent. And as the scriptures say, the prayers rose up as incense before the Lord.
And I wept.
It would not be the last time that I would weep. I felt very drawn to this man and began looking for every opportunity to learn more about him. With each subsequent article, with each television appearance, I would weep.
I watched Sunday mass being celebrated on March 17 at St. Anne’s just outside the Vatican. Pope Francis looked like any parish priest, wearing simple Lenten robes. After mass, he stood outside and greeted each and every parishioner, often conversing with them. And I wept.
The most compelling image occurred as he arrived for the inaugural mass on March 19. Touring the overflowing crowds at St. Peter’s Square in the pope mobile, Pope Francis suddenly ordered the vehicle to stop. He stepped out and walked towards the crowd, to a disabled man. He kissed the man with such tenderness on the forehead and caressed him. The man’s caretaker beamed and the man broke into a glorious smile.
I saw Jesus in that instant, getting a sense of what it must have been like to have been in His presence when He tended the sick.
I wept again.
And each time I wept, my heart swelled with hope and a burning desire to change, to follow the example of Pope Francis.
In his imitation of Christ, Pope Francis points to Him. His invitation to us is gentle, loving and compelling. I watch him and find myself pondering, wondering how I also can imitate Christ.
Who around me is poor: in need of material goods, uplifting conversation, or just someone being totally present to them? Aren’t they often the people I see every day at work or school, in the marketplace and at home? Don’t I also see them on street corners, holding signs, asking for help?
In his homily to scores of priests at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass in Rome, Pope Francis referred to the anointing that a priest receives at ordination.
He spoke of Psalm 133:
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
The anointing received is like the oil on the head of Aaron: it doesn’t remain there merely to give off a sweet fragrance; it overflows, running down his robes.
We may not all be ordained priests but as Christians we are part of the royal priesthood as prescribed in I Peter 2:5; we too are anointed with oil at our baptism and our confirmation. It is not meant to be kept to ourselves as a faded memory. As he exhorted the priests at the Chrism Mass, Pope Francis is exhorting us to step outside of ourselves. The oil cannot help but run down the robes of Aaron, it cannot and must not be contained. It is the Oil of Gladness from the Lord. And we as baptized and confirmed children of God each have that oil, ready to share with those around us.
We too are shepherds of our own little flocks, all those people around us that God entrusts to us. Pope Francis called his priests, all of us, to take on the smell of our flock. And he shows us just how to do it: be like Jesus, be intimate, show love through your touch, your actions, your words. Every simple gesture done to anyone out of love for Jesus is sacred, holy and transformative.
His washing and kissing of the feet of the young people at the Casal del Marmo youth detention center on Holy Thursday is a clear example.
Pope Francis makes me weep. His example opens my heart and prompts me to change.
He is a true Vicar of Christ.
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