Keeping the Spirit of Francis Alive

Wherever Pope Francis goes, people follow. That was certainly the case throughout his whirlwind six-day tour of Washington, D.C, New York, and Philadelphia that wrapped up last week. Dozens of moving anecdotes popped up every time he stopped his open-air Jeep popemobile to kiss a baby wearing a miniature mitre or a bless a person in a wheelchair. Members of Congress weren't even able to maintain their composure. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cried and Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) walked up to the stage and pilfered a glass of water the 78-year-old pontiff drank during his historic speech in front of a joint session of Congress. But down in Philadelphia, hundreds of thousands—including many Harvard students (and me)—waited in lines for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

I was fortunate enough to see the Pope in his little black Fiat from ten feet away. After walking through a security barrier just as state troopers moved to close the street, I got closer to the Pope than I ever could have expected. As he drove right in front of me, his presence was palpable. Even though he looked physically exhausted as he waved from the back seat of his tiny car, he still projected an energy that was invigorating to the lucky few hundred who found themselves on that small street.

But the few fleeting glances we all got last week cannot be the end of what this country gets out of its papal visit. If that's the case, we will have missed the entire point of the visit. As easy as it is to turn these anecdotal glances into viral clickbait, deeper reflection is necessary. For the holder of a position not renowned—it seems to me—for being a positive political force, Pope Francis sure knew how to work Washington, interacting with politicians while still prioritizing the poor and marginalized he preaches about. After all, the United States was not even his first destination this week. He stopped in Cuba to bring his message to a country in need of renewed diplomatic relations with the US.

Although the pope’s entrance through Cuba sends a strong message, his original plan was even stronger. Christians often cite a verse from the Gospel of Matthew proclaiming, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Pope Francis’s visit put this into practice in a stunningly moving way, visiting a poor country first and declining an invitation to eat with politicians in favor of a meal with the homeless. Before settling on Cuba, Pope Francis considered entering the United States by walking across the Mexican border in a show of solidarity with those immigrating to this country in search of a better future.

Imagine what a powerful image that would have been: As Washington fights its way through a bitter primary process where immigration is a key issue, having a beloved pope walk across the border could have revolutionized the immigration dialogue both here and around the world. Still, Pope Francis was able to contribute to the immigration dialogue, directly addressing immigration in several important speeches where thousands cheered as he preached a doctrine of love and respect for immigrants.


But of course, that leaves the issue of his controversial meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Despite claims otherwise from her lawyers, the Vatican clarified that the meeting was hardly private, not arranged by the pontiff himself, and does not constitute an endorsement of Kim Davis’s views. Pope Francis, however, did arrange one meeting personally, calling a former student who is gay and married to a man.

As much as liberals would like to believe an imminent change in church doctrine is coming, Pope Francis has made it clear once again this week that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Still, neither of his meetings should be what we remember about the visit. This pope has made it clear that his first role is to be a pastor, and good pastors have an obligation first and foremost to love everyone—regardless of whether they agree with their lifestyle. That’s why love is what we must remember from this visit. As I stood there with the throngs of screaming people lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, it was clear to me that his flock is as strong as ever.

Ryan P. O’Meara ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, lives in Cabot House.


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