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‘A Magnet for Humanity’


Pope Francis made the new Time 100 list. “We’ve got a simple, uncomplicated, sincere shepherd,” Cardinal Dolan wrote in the entry. Pope Frances says things like: Do not be afraid to love! Do not be afraid to be tender!”

He’s seeking to reintroduce Christ to the world.

“He talks like Jesus!” the cardinal sitting next to Dolan commented at the installation Mass last month.

“I think that’s his job description,” Dolan replied.

“Stay tuned,” Dolan urges. Every day from Rome, this first American pope preaches. At his Wednesday audience this week, Pope Francis said: “We are never alone; the crucified and risen Lord guides us, and with us there are many brothers and sisters who in silence and obscurity, in their family life and work, in their problems and difficulties, their joys and hopes, live their faith every day and, together with us, bring to the world the lordship of God’s love, in the risen Christ, ascended to heaven, an advocate for us.”

That’s after preaching about apostolic courage earlier that morning. 

People cannot get enough of this. Fifty-thousand people heard the pope’s message yesterday in an overflowing St. Peter’s Square. Pope Frances is drawing crowds. That certainly was the case when I was last there, for his first Angelus and installation. But the enthusiasm for this man named Francis continues. John Allen reports:

I arrived today in Rome at roughly 11 a.m. local time and asked my driver at Fiumicino airport to take me directly to St. Peter’s Square. He told me he’d get me as close as possible, but the area around St. Peter’s itself was closed to traffic. When I asked why, he simply said: “It’s the pope.”

Today being Wednesday, Francis held his normal weekly general audience. Generally speaking, these audiences attract perhaps 10,000 people, and rarely does that kind of crowd in the vicinity of the Vatican cause a disruption to traffic flows. Today, however, Roman authorities estimated that Francis drew a crowd of at least 50,000, and perhaps as many as 80,000. Given that influx of humanity, the broad avenue of Via della Conciliazione was temporarily converted to a pedestrian zone three-quarters of the way down to the Castel Sant’Angelo, reflecting this pope’s early reputation as a magnet for humanity.

In part, the usual Wednesday crowd was swelled due to tens of thousands of pilgrims from the Italian region of Triveneto, who were accompanying the seven bishops of their region on their ad limina visit. (Bishop Beniamino Pizziol of Vicenza told reporters Wednesday he’s staying at the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel, during the ad limina visit, and was invited to dinner on Monday night with Francis.)

The crowd, however, also included a large cross-section of pilgrims from various parts of the world, including an unusually large turnout of tourists in Rome who simply wanted to see what all the fuss is about regarding the new pope.

At Mass this Thursday morning, he talked about Trinitarian reality. He said there is no “God-spray,” but a real, true, living God, who we are called to have a real friendship with. Francis isn’t a rock star, he is reflecting Christ, making God real and known. He’s opening doors and welcoming people home.

Here in the United States, we join Boston in prayer today. We do that when tragedy strikes, when evil is made manifest in the most palpable, shocking ways. Francis is praying for the people hurt by the Boston attack and now in Texas. But he prays for everyone, and urges every one to prayer. At Mass in Rome this morning he said“Faith is a gift that begins in our encounter with Jesus, a real, tangible person and not an intangible essence.” He encouraged sinners, and once again, talked of mercy, pleading for a belief in Divine Mercy. God never tires of forgiving us, Francis said in his first Sunday message as pope. And he said it again today. I will predict that Francis continues to repeat himself, repeating these lead, fundamental messages of the Christian Gospels. 

While the world still keeps an eye on this new pope, he makes the case: This is real, this is relevant, this is how you walk the walk. You are not alone. Mercy is yours at the asking. Believe and live as if you do believe. That’s what he’s doing. That’s what keeps us watching.

Stay tuned.