Pope Francis’ contagious smile went on display in America late September. Greeted by President Obama at Andrews on the 22nd and welcomed to Washington, D.C.’s White House the following day, the pope’s open side popemobile conveyed the pontifice every mile on land, including a parade to the Ellipse and National Mall from the WH, a contrast to the enclosed bulletproof “beast” of predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis earlier swept through Cuba, charming but chiding Fidel’s communist program, then AA’s Shepherd One took over from Alitalia for the rest of the journey on U.S. air space. He conferred with the U.S. bishops at St. Matthews Cathedral before Junipero Serra got canonized in Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Serra brought the cross to California in the 18th century; sensationalist media harped on the Europeans displacing Native Americans.
Thursday, Sept. 24, saw Francis at Capitol Hill before a joint session of Congress where not only did he made a point on climate change but also zeroed in on capital punishment, the cause of the poor, and the current focus on immigration, then stopped at St. Maria’s Meals in D.C.’s St. Patrick’s Church where he elbowed with the less fortunate before he returned to NYC’s JFK and held prayers at the more famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
At the 70th anniversary of the UN General Assembly on NYC’s eastside, Pope Francis reminded, nay, reproached world leaders of their role in the welfare of humanity and the planet, caricaturing a “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” of its audience. He joined a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial Museum with a rabbi and an imam before leading a procession through Central Park, held Mass at Madison Square Garden, sat on a chair built by immigrant laborers. He proved himself to be a real people’s pope!
On Saturday, Sept. 26, Francis flew to Philadelphia and held Mass at the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, visiting the birthplace of U.S. democracy, home to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. The evening saw him at prayer in a Festival of Families on Ben Franklin Parkway where gospel singer Aretha Franklin, a daughter of an itinerant Baptist preacher, serenaded the beatific pontiff with a soulful rendition of Amazing Grace.
Sunday, he met with bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, visited with correctional inmates before he officiated an open Mass where the crowd fell silent and kneeled a mile away when the pope consecrated the elements; folks endured security checks to partake on what was felt to be a momentous event, a fitting highlight of his trip. Then the pontiff headed back to AA’s Shepherd One for the return to Rome.
One would think that an ex-Protestant cleric more familiar with the 1517 disputations nailed at Saxony’s Wittenberg would have a hard time getting “saints” names straight. Growing up in the Philippines where my father’s family was Methodist and my maternal relation Roman Catholic, I am not unfamiliar with the breadth, width and height of the Rock-of-Peter tradition. I welcomed the pontifice’ visit as fresh air, though critics were quick to dub Francis as Obama’s pope, presumably meant to bring the pope a notch down since “Obummer” is Internet’s favorite whipping boy!
Critique on what the pope failed to do rather than what he did abounded. But choosing a popemobile with the open side was a demonstration of Francis’ incredible trust in the public, confident that no crazy would burst out a spurt of lead with an AK 47 or an M16 assault weapon readily available at area gun shops. There was no guarantee on security (the pope tolerated what was offered) and Pope Francis’ deft touch contributed to the absence of any untoward incident in an increasingly violent America.
Comments on the central office function of the pope in a 102-acre “territory” to a mass of faithful across the planet is a live item in our agenda to pursue.
For now, as one who stepped out from the best of Christian Resurgence Circles to shake off theological metaphors of eternal faithfulness couched in Ptolemaic cosmology, replacing it with a temporal but transcendent model of profound humanness, we are delighted with the pope’s visit as a momentary relief from an America growing ridiculously petty and hostile in its economic, political, and cultural life.
The visit is a call for intense effort to stand present to the individual and communal realities of our time. In little Saipan, reeling from Typhoon Soudelor’s recent call, I am conscious that next-door China of our easy access, and far off America of our tenuous political connection, remain key players.
The pope’s moral power behind his simple humanity from a stamp-sized geography with fancy Swiss Guards holding lances and wearing swords, and a population of less than 500, leaves us with nothing but hope.