This is far from an all-inclusive list, but some highlights from Pope Francis’s first year in office. Feel free to send me your own favorites at [email protected] or add them in the comments section.
Pray for Me. In any top-ten list of moments with Pope Francis, we can’t leave out the most historic: White smoke. The announcement. The first pope from the Americas. He took the name of Francis, the beloved saint from Assisi. The crowd near me in St. Peter’s Square a year ago today had no doubt, and immediately celebrated. And were moved by the pope who greeted the world asking for prayers.
St. Joseph’s Day. Pope Francis’s official installation Mass was on the feast day of the adoptive father of Jesus and he told us during his homily what was to come: “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”
Lampedusa. Pope Francis went to this Sicilian island where so many have fled violence in Egypt and talked about the Good Samaritan. We walk by people all the time who are in need. That indifference should be intolerable in a Christian life. We must suffer with others in pain. What a day when so many people are persecuted, feel isolated, bear so many wounds on their hearts and carry such painful burdens.
St. Michael and St. Joseph. I have said before I think this was the most powerful image of the year. Pope Francis was joined by the pope emeritus, in an unprecedented move, as they consecrated the Holy See to Sts. Joseph and St. Michael. Fatherhood is an overwhelming theme of this past year of Pope Francis, which is what he models. And it’s at the core of reforms in the Vatican. One of the under-covered stories of Pope Francis is that he talks about the reality of the evil in the world. He girds us for spiritual battle here, even as he leads with love.
Rio. He implored young people to lead a countercultural revolution! There was so much beauty at World Youth Day in Rio, so much merciful and joyous encounter. But the challenge was the message, the mission of the Gospel. During a Stations of the Cross service on Copacabana beach, Pope Francis took the young people on the road to Calvary, with Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, and Mary. “Which of them do you want to be?” Pope Francis asked:
Do you want to be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands? Tell me: are you one of those who wash their hands, who feign ignorance and look the other way? Or are you like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood, or like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness? And you, who do you want to be? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? Jesus is looking at you now and is asking you: do you want to help me carry the Cross? Brothers and sisters, with all the strength of your youth, how will you respond to him?
This is the Christian life, faith, fiat.
The Press Conference. When he met the media with an impromptu press conference on the plane ride back from Rome, that was a news story! His “who am I to judge?” became the headline and an open door for many who previously couldn’t hear Church teaching. The key for Catholics is to keep the door open and known and share what the Church proposes about the fullness of life and freedom.
Father and Son. One of the images of the year was a little boy who made his way to the Holy Father during a celebration of the family. For a Church whose priests have suffered on account of repulsive filth, evil, and mismanagement, this was such a welcome site. A loving priest — a father — and the innocent joy of a trusting child.
Son and Mother. Before and after going to Rio for World Youth Day – the former Cardinal Bergoglio’s first trip back to the continent of his birth since he left for the conclave to elect the next pope after Pope Benedict XVI’s shocking announcement – Pope Francis went to St. Mary Major in Rome to ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession, to help keep him and all the shepherds close to her Son. He would later send a video message to a congress of bishops and lay people from the Americas at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and emphasized: “You know, we and Jesus have the same Mother!” The crowd broke out in joy. A simple – albeit controversial – reality. One that comforts and challenges, as Michelangelo’s Pieta so beautiful captures: A woman who said yes to God in self-giving, in reception, in self-sacrifice, who knows joy and knows pain and knows why anyone would have hope. She bore Him in her womb and held his mutilated body in her arms and is in a glory offered to all.
The Gospel of Joy. Much of the news coverage and commentary in the hours and days immediately following the release of Pope Francis’s papal exhortation seemed to miss both the Gospel and the joy of the document. Evangelii Gaudium, outlined his pastoral vision that he had been imparting in visuals, preaching, and lessons in addresses to audiences and his writing. It’s a long document, so picking and choosing is inevitable and only natural. Anyone wanting to understand the possibilities of the so-called “Francis Effect” might read or reread it.
Be peacemakers! This was his instruction to new cardinals in recent weeks, as it is the instruction of Jesus Christ, whom he serves, at the Sermon on the Mount. When he prayed for peace in a four-hour prayer service occasioned by violence and slaughter in Syria, it was not a mere political statement but an invitation to a way of life that participates in Divine life.