For months I had been hearing about the pope’s visit to the U.S and the eager questions people had: How long will he be here? What message will he share? What activities will he engage in? Where will he go? More often than not, I’d hear about the historical precedent his trip would mark, particularly in Washington, D.C., where he would engage in several unique activities—including being the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress.
My admiration for Pope Francis isn’t because I’m a devout Catholic or because he’s a public figure most hope to get a glimpse of. The esteem I hold for him is because he is a modest and compassionate man who does not let the influence he holds or the opportunities he’s presented with get the best of him. His goal has been to proclaim the good news on behalf of the most vulnerable populations in society, while remaining humble and simple in his approach. His actions have been self-evident throughout his tenure as pontiff and have had a profound impact on many lives, including mine. The most powerful moments have been when he has embodied what he preaches—a practice we can all learn from.
In D.C., it was the minute he stopped his popemobile to allow Sophie Cruz, a 5-year-old girl who courageously bypassed the police barricade, to give him a hug and deliver a letter with a message on behalf of immigrants who live in constant fear of being separated from their families, that deeply warmed my heart. It was also the moment Pope Francis greeted the crowd from the Speaker’s balcony in Spanish and earnestly asked everyone to “please pray for me and if there’s some among you that don’t believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way,“ that brought me to tears.
His ongoing commitment to the poor and disenfranchised is yet another example of why so many people appreciate and respect him and his goal to galvanize the able to help those in need. He leads by example. In the nation’s capital, when invited to gather with prominent policy leaders for a meal, he politely declined and shared he already had a lunch date with the homeless. In Philadelphia, he stopped his Fiat to kiss and bless a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. These are some of the many instances Pope Francis’ actions continue to show society that he truly cares about those who are suffering and living on the margins.
The highlight of his visit for me was when I saw Pope Francis up close at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC, where he celebrated the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass in Spanish. As I listened intently to his holiness, I was overwhelmed with emotion by the simplicity of his words in a language that is infused throughout our country—but not always celebrated. One portion of his sermon sums up his ongoing call to humanity to serve others no matter their status, gender, or creed:
"Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone…”
And Pope Francis has shaken up Washington politics.
While done in a subtle manner, the pope’s speech to Congress was forthright and unyielding in reminding each lawmaker of the responsibility they have to “defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good…”
His bottom line message for the multiple issues he raised and one Congress seems to have strayed away from in recent years was, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Matthew 7:12). Simple, right? Yet Congress seems to be out of touch with the needs of the American people.
My hope and prayer is that other members were as moved by the pope’s message as Speaker Boehner was and take action on long overdue reforms—for the sake of the common good.