By Father Joseph Sia
One of the more interesting things about serving as a priest in Iowa is that people often share with me their stories of St. John Paul II’s visit to Des Moines in 1979 when he was the pope. The mere fact that they still talk about it more than 30 years later tells me that it was indeed a meaningful visit. I’ve met some folks who remember walking long distances to see the pope celebrate Mass at Living History Farms in Urbandale. Even those who weren’t there talk about how proud they are that a pope came to Iowa.
This week, another pope comes to the United States of America. While he won’t be heading anywhere near Iowa, his visit is still one that is causing much excitement among many Catholics in our Davenport Diocese and the whole country. Why is this so? Is it because this is Pope Francis we are talking about? Is it because this is the pope who has received so much attention from secular media in the United States?
On the one hand, yes, I believe that this is part of the “Pope Francis effect.” Each pope has his own personality and style and Pope Francis’ way of living out the papacy is one that many have found interesting and inviting. Personally, I have grown in my appreciation for Pope Francis through his declaration of the “Year of Mercy.” If you have not yet read the document in which he explains his reasons for declaring this extraordinary jubilee year, then I invite you to do so. It was through that statement that I perceived the depth of Pope Francis’ relationship with God, and how he is allowing himself to be the “pontifex” or the bridge-builder, through whom the Holy Spirit can act in our world.
On the other hand, I also believe that this anticipation for the pope’s visit is a reflection of our anticipation for Christ. Regardless of who the pope is, we as Catholics recognize the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ. When the pope comes to visit, we want to be able to welcome him with love and hospitality, just as we would welcome Christ himself. As we have seen in other countries where the pope has visited, millions of people become overwhelmed with joy, and reach out to the pope to ask for his blessing so that they can be strengthened in their Christian vocation.
My hope is that this visit of Pope Francis will inspire all of us American Catholics to grow even more in our love for our faith. May it encourage us to persevere in our mission of sharing the Good News to all our brothers and sisters everywhere we go. My prayers are for safe travels for the pilgrims who will be journeying from our diocese. I look forward to hearing their stories when they come back next week, and who knows, I may keep hearing their stories even up to 30 years from now.
(Fr. Joseph Sia is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction.)