|Pope Francis addresses joint meeting of U. S. Congress|
I certainly did! One could have spent one’s entire time in the pulpit discussing any one of the Pope’s major addresses or sermons, or reflecting on the impact of his presence and personality on his hearers in the various venues where he appeared, and on the tens of millions who viewed any of his itinerary on television. You did not have to agree with everything the Pope said in order to be inspired by him.
One very evident gift of this revered leader of the Roman Catholic Church is his amazing sense of the occasion, a rare quality even among those accustomed to public speaking. The Pope did not have just one message for all, like most of our political candidates. His words were audience specific and always right on target, whether to the thousands at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, or the inmates at Curran-Fromhold Prison, or the families of the victims of 9/11 at the World Trade Center Memorial. There were some common themes, of course, like justice, service, the role of the church, and the importance of dialogue, but each message was a prophetic challenge for that particular occasion.
Taken as a whole, his many appearances and varied venues throughout the packed schedule of his whirlwind visit to the United States were a consistent clarion call to all Americans to accept the challenges we face as individuals, as communities, as a nation, and as a world. By his words and his bearing Pope Francis had a powerful and compelling impact everywhere he went. I was personally inspired by his humility, his genuine love of people especially children, his passion for justice, his compassion for the poor, his unabashed proclamation and application of the gospel, his ecumenical spirit, his profound simplicity.
What a symbol he is for the Roman Catholic Church at a time when the disillusioned faithful really need such a symbol, someone they can believe in, someone who is restoring the stained image of the priesthood. What a representative he is for Christians world-wide, and for God-fearing people of all religions. He is calling upon all believers to embrace the Golden Rule and to practice the faith they profess.
With his white cassock and simple white cap, he was a strikingly photogenic figure, as he stood before the dark-suited Speaker of the House and the Vice President to address the joint meeting of Congress, and before the delegates of the UNITED Nations General Assembly. He was even more visually radiant when he stood in the cavernous World Trade Center Memorial, with the spotlight focused on him at the podium in that somber setting. Gleaming white, he looked like an angel!
At every venue he challenged his hearers to live with integrity and to fulfill their particular role in life. He called upon the representatives of the various nations at the U. N. General Assembly, the members on both sides of the aisle of the United States Congress, bishops, pastors, and seminarians, Catholics, Protestants, people of other faiths, nonbelievers, everyone – to work together as stewards of the earth and of human life, in addressing climate change, immigration reform, human rights, nuclear disarmament, poverty, child abuse, the refugee crisis, and many other challenges that are confronting humankind. He stressed the urgency of the need for action, for everyone to do what she or he can do to serve others and to make the world a better place.
An invitation to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia was the initial motivation for his visit to the United States. His address to the WMOF was often spontaneous and revealed his obvious commitment to a favorite theme. The Sunday Mass on the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Parkway was attended by more than a million people!
Thank you, Pope Francis, for lifting our spirits, for elevating the tone of our public discourse, for giving us hope, for calling forth our best selves, and for practicing what you preach. May God bless you and continue to use you mightily in your ongoing service to humankind.