Just a year ago, millions around the world were riveted to their TV sets or electronic devices, united with the throngs gathered on a rainy evening in Saint Peter's Square.
Awaiting the announcement of a new Pope, each of us clung, tightly, to that invisible list we all have of the things the Pontiff would need to address to meet our personal criteria of an ideal Pope. Depending upon our perspective, experience, or preference, the lists were different in items and order of importance. But it soon became clear that all would be different as Pope Francis brought the world to prayer.
During the past year, he has piqued the curiosity and respect of believers and non-believers alike. Wherever I go, conversations begin something like this. "I'm Jewish [or whatever denomination] but I love your Pope."
He appears to have the ability to identify special gifts in others and then to place them in strategic positions, one by one, including his new secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, or, appointing Cardinal George Pell to head the committee to recommend changes to the Vatican bank. His concern for the poor, for immigrants, for the young, for the sick and those who would otherwise be ignored, is genuine. To the dismay of some and to the delight of others, he lives, travels and dresses simply. His candor with reporters, his non-judgmental manner, and his personal warmth communicate welcoming.
I was in Rome last May for a meeting of the Union of International Superiors General, a group of superiors general of institutes of Catholic women religious. Pope Francis met with 800 women religious leaders. A few of us were among the last to leave the Paul VI Audience Hall, and were able to watch what was happening with the general audience outside on large TV screens. As Pope Francis was being driven through the huge crowds, countless babies were being held up to him. At one point, a woman was helped to hold up the limp and sick body of her son. Pope Francis embraced the young man and blessed him as our eyes filled with tears. He was unafraid of soiling his white garments, unafraid of "catching" anything. I don't think he asked if the young man was Catholic.
The Gospel stories tell us Jesus was often surrounded by people, including children and the sick. His behavior delighted some and dismayed others. There were times when his words or actions brought him into danger. Many, even his followers, did not always understand. Yet the example of Jesus' life and teaching were so compelling that centuries later, Christians still believe him to be the Son of God and many non-Christians respect his religious leadership.
The example of Pope Francis' life is compelling: the joy on his face and his peaceful demeanor. He knows we have our lists and I don't think he is asking us to throw them away. However, before we take aim at what needs to be corrected, we must embrace living and love in the manner of the one in whom we believe. This is the message of Pope Francis.
Sister Mary Hughes, O.P., former prioress of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville.