by Father Mark Goldasich
It’s not every day you get a phone call from the CEO of a major corporation.
This past weekend, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark phoned to tell me of his appreciation for the big bump in sales that I was responsible for. They manufacture Kleenex tissues and, due to the pope’s visit to the States, I’d gone through several cases of them!
OK, I didn’t really get a call from the Kleenex people, but I did use lots of tissues because of Pope Francis. Yes, I got somewhat emotional — not so much at the pope’s powerful words, but at people’s reactions to meeting him.
I knew it was going to be bad when I was already tearing up as the pope’s plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base. Below are my teariest moments, listed in order from “quickly and discreetly wiping my eyes” to “practically bawling.”
- Francis at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. The pope spending time with those usually forgotten or even shunned by society got to me. From Francis’ simple thumbs-up to the crowd when he saw the chair made for him by the prisoners, to his shaking hands with an inmate covered in tattoos, to his speaking tenderly and unhurriedly to a woman inmate — all these spoke of the pope’s huge, compassionate heart. He treated those who were incarcerated with the same attention and care as he did the “more important” people that he rubbed shoulders with during his U.S. visit.
- The pope with the immigrants helped by Catholic Charities of New York. Pope Francis spoke of being the son of an immigrant family and how most of our families were at one time immigrants to this country. Each of the groups that he spoke with at this gathering gave him a heartfelt gift: unaccompanied minors gave the pope a soccer jersey and ball; construction workers gave him a hard hat and tool belt; refugee women presented him with a handmade altar cloth; and others gave Pope Francis a book detailing their journeys to the United States. The glow on their faces when speaking with the pope was absolutely amazing.
- Francis and the students at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. To say these kids were excited is an understatement. They could not get enough of the pope — nor he of them. They leaned over barricades to touch him, have him bless rosaries or just take a selfie. The scene inside a classroom at the school was quieter, but the excitement was just as intense as the pope went from table to table examining the students’ projects and chatting with them. This multicultural and multilingual gathering was a great snapshot of our diverse country.
- Pope Francis and the 10-year-old with cerebral palsy in Philadelphia. As soon as the pope caught sight of Michael Keating in his wheelchair, he signaled for his car to stop and walked to the barricade where the boy was. He kissed Michael on the forehead and embraced him with such compassion. Michael’s parents were an emotional mess watching this . . . and so was I.
- The multifaith prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial. I think I went through a box or two of Kleenex just at this venue. The pope met with some of the survivors and with spouses of first responders killed in the tragedy. Then he proceeded to a stage at the memorial, where he was flanked by a rabbi on his right and an imam on his left. Also on the stage were members of other Christian denominations, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. All were praying — united as people of good will — for healing and peace. When a choir of young people came out to sing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” I lost it.
All of the visit was not somber, however. The funniest scene was in Philadelphia when Pope Francis noticed Quinn Madden, a little baby dressed as the pope, and burst into laughter. After blessing the girl, he sent a special message to her parents: “You have a great sense of humor.”
There are many reasons why people — and not just Catholics — turned out or tuned in in such numbers and with such enthusiasm to see Pope Francis. A lot has to do with his genuineness. He doesn’t just talk about God’s love for us — he lives it. He doesn’t just speak about the joy of faith — he exudes it. He doesn’t just mention Jesus as the good shepherd — he wades right into the midst of the flock.
In a world where we’re so often disappointed by those who lead us, it’s refreshing to have someone like Pope Francis walk the talk.
Isn’t it time we followed his lead?