He spoke eloquently on the dignity of all human beings, care for our common home and justice that fosters peace. What impacted people most though, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, were Pope Francis’ gestures and actions on his first-ever visit to the United States. He’s leading us by example.
“When you’re with him, it’s his presence that backs up everything he says,” notes Bishop Martin Amos. “When Pope Francis gets in a crowd and sees people, he just lights up.”
“His gestures are very elemental,” observes Father Bob Striegel, a diocesan priest. “It’s the tender way the Holy Father touches a child, an elderly person, someone with a disfigurement or a developmental disability.”
Pope Francis connects with people in a humble, warm way, observes St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ. “That’s the brilliance of the man. He connects with people where they are at.”
Then there’s the car, the modest, four-door Fiat 550L that Pope Francis rode in during his travels in the U.S. What a contrast to the larger, sleeker SUVs in his entourage. His choice of cars certainly reinforced his message about environmental sustainability and a modest lifestyle.
But it wasn’t just about the car, or the pope hugging the 5-year-old daughter of undocumented parents or the gregarious persona he exuded when he wasn’t giving speeches or presiding at Mass. During a stop at a Catholic Charities meal site he exchanged greetings with a French-speaking mom in need, responding in her language. He reinforced her human dignity, a key concept in his speech to Congress.
The Holy Father stepped outside his comfort zone, giving that hour-long speech in English, not his first language. For someone who loves to speak as the Spirit moves him, it must have been a challenge to not divert from the text. “… All of us at this event were touched by his desire to touch us directly, in our own language, despite what labor it cost him,” Sr. Joan noted.
Pope Francis is the chief shepherd who takes the church outside its four walls and into the street. At times he appeared to be limping in those streets and on the steps in his U.S. visit. But he didn’t make a big deal out of it and continued shaking hands and connecting with the crowds during a grueling schedule that might have taxed someone half his 78 years. The visual image conveyed this message: it’s not about me; it’s about connecting with my brothers and sisters on this planet we call our common home.
We’ve been inspired by a pope who walks the talk and walked it magnificently in the United States. But if his message truly has an impact on us, we have to accept the baton from him. We can’t just admire his actions. We have to imitate them.
We’ve got to live the golden rule, as he said in his speech to Congress, by treating others the way we would like to be treated. This applies to our interactions with our co-workers, our families, our neighbors, other cars and trucks in traffic (cutting someone off is not Christ-like), waiters in restaurants and clerks in retail stores.
We’ve got to exchange a smile with someone we know or don’t know; it costs absolutely nothing and could brighten that individual’s day. We’ve got to invest time in a visit to the nursing home, or serving a meal at a meal site or volunteering to help in programs for people with special needs.
We’ve got to consider living more simply and engaging in practices that protect the planet by reducing, re-using and recycling as much as possible. We’ve got to build a sense of community by attending Mass each week, offering our services to a nonprofit or civic organization struggling to do its work for lack of volunteers.
Let’s follow in Pope Francis’ footsteps by accepting his call to action.