I hope you’re not as tired of me talking to you about Pope Francis – good choice by the way – as he is tired of the world talking about him. You know that when I talk about him, I’m really trying to talk about you.
While I’m thrilled to be celebrating Francis’s first anniversary of his election, he went away on a silent retreat to, well, put all the focus on you.
As I watched him get off a bus with a simple black bag in hand upon his arrival at the retreat house, I thought: Jesus, where did you find this guy?!
This past year, it’s been so easy for me to talk about you and your Church, and with you about you and your Church, because of your servant, our servant, Francis.
When I see his joy, it’s like seeing your own joy. When I see how he lives, I recall how you told us all to live. When I hear him say things like “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition [of ‘Jorge Bergoglio’],” I’m filled with confidence to trust in you again, to offer even my mistakes to you. Your love shines through again and again in his humility, compassion, and mercy, in his closeness with your closest friends – the least among us.
When I was on that Buddhist immersion in Nepal back in January, do you remember how surprised I was when most of the Buddhists and Hindus with whom I spoke didn’t know who Francis was? I felt embarrassed for asking and assuming that everyone knew. Humility seems to be your favorite lesson to teach, your favorite request to grant. But, as you know, it’s not my favorite lesson to learn! Nevertheless, I was like a kid with a new friend who I couldn’t wait to introduce to everyone.
I spent a lot of my time chatting over bags of sweet, golden Nepali fritters with the beggars on the dusty roads outside the walls of the temples and monasteries while passing out shiney, little portraits of Francis. Sorry, I didn’t bring many pictures of you – luggage weight limit, you know – but in a way, I didn’t really need to. It wasn’t Francis I wanted them to meet anyway. You knew that.
The moment they saw Francis’ gentle eyes, wide smile, and friendly, disarming wave, without any explanation from me, they kissed his portrait and touched it to their foreheads out of reverence. I just told them that this was “Papa,” and every time I saw them, they pulled out his portrait from among their few possessions and yelled out, “Papa, Papa!” at me.
I would yell, “Sāthī [friends], Papa, Papa!” back at them, and we would all laugh, and curious locals, and monks and nuns, and other foreigners drawn in by the moment, stopped as they passed by to see what the happy commotion was about.
I too was curious and even confused about these mysterious encounters. Was it the joyful image? Was it the joyful beggars? Was it me (in a sense a beggar too!)? Or was it you all along, from beginning to end, reconciling all, giving us a glimpse of the many united in the joyful One that is beyond our comprehension?
In our “Papa, Papa,” I heard your joy and eagerness, Lord. And as I looked at the poverty around me, the poverty in me, I also heard your urgent call for help, Lord. Yet, at the same time, joy abounds. “Sāthī, Papa, Papa!” You hear the cry of the poor, Lord. And I am glad and rejoice in it.
On my last days in Nepal I decided to ask my new sāthī permission to take their pictures with Francis. I needed to let Francis know that you wanted to send your blessings and greetings – your cries and your sighs, your laughter and your smiles – through your dearest friends in Nepal. Francis’s bright smile made it easier to see your smile, and made it easier for us to smile.
Joining Francis – “Sāthī, Papa, Papa!” – with millions of heads bowed down before you in silent praise, I pray that we make you the focus of our attention and allow you, as Francis is doing, to reflect your radiance as the moon reflects the radiance of the sun.
Cover Image: Photo by Quang Tran SJ