By Paula Damon
Like any other writer, I had stories to tell this week – a party line of happenings, a parade of reminiscences, pleasant impressions, particular notions that ordinarily would take on complex examinations.
Not this time. No. Rising above all that nice noise, one story delivered a dossier of intoxicating newness. Two words: Pope Francis.
It doesn’t matter how Catholic or non-Catholic a person is, Pope Francis stands to make even the most agnostic among us, believers in the power and potential of living simplistically and allowing our actions to resonate goodness and service.
What’s not to like about this humble man, who just days ago went by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and now has adopted the name of the most influential servant saint of all time: Saint Francis of Assisi.
Previously dwelling smack dab in the middle of the capitol of Argentina, Buenos Aires, the Argentine native of Italian heritage, was known to completely shun pomp and circumstance. Almost always blending in with the crowd, now Pope Francis once traded sailing through traffic in a lush leather-lined limousine for jostling along on the endlessly long, noisy, sometimes smelly stop-start cadence of public transit.
He chose to ride to and from work side-by-side with single mothers, rowdy teenagers, downtrodden servants, crying children. Seated right there with the helpless and hopeless, he was and is a living, breathing incarnation of the Gospel.
A man of the cloth in the truest sense, as Cardinal, he elected to cook his own food in a modest third-floor downtown apartment instead of living in a fancy, maid- and butler-driven mansion, customarily inhabited by his predecessors.
There’s no doubt the power of this gentle Jesuit dwells with the powerless, rubs shoulders with the poor, wraps bear hugs around the diseased and homeless, further testifying to the potential goodness in all of us.
By the time of his first public appearance as Pope just hours into his papacy, when he gave his inaugural greeting to more than 100,000 onlookers waiting in Saint Peter’s Square from the central balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis had already begun to push status quo full tilt on its axis.
Quickly sending Vatican tradition into a tizzy, he opted to not wear the traditional ornate flashy gold crucifix, preferring the plain metal cross he had always worn. And again exchanging lavishness for simplicity, he shunned red vestments for humbler white vestments.
During his first full day on the job, Francis strongly urged the cardinals, who had gathered in Rome for the conclave, to resist complacency, as best expressed in his first address to them as the Holy Father. “Find new ways to bring evangelization to the ends of the Earth,” he said, and then warned them against giving into negativity, describing it as “that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.”
Perhaps the closing of his inaugural greeting gave us all of us a much-needed warm fuzzy, “Goodnight. Sleep well. We will see one another soon.”
Like no other, something tells me that one day during his office, those of us dwelling here in the nation’s breadbasket, way out here in the interior of the U.S. may see him sooner than later.
I, a fallen-away Catholic, will be in the crowd, waving in solidarity of hope, wiping tears of joy for affable Pope Francis, who even makes us laugh with his own brand of holy humor.
On March 13, 2013, when toasting the cardinals after his election had been announced, Francis simply said, “May God forgive you,” which reportedly brought the house down. “In other words,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, explained, “he was saying, ‘I hope you don’t regret this later.’”
Made me chuckle. Still does.
We have new Pope. Is he like no other? Only time will tell. But for now, he is a candle in the dark, an advocate for the poor and hopefully a clarion voice for victimized.
God speed, Pope Francis.