After the visit

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a week since Pope Francis left the United States. The outpouring of love caused by his visit made even hardened news people sad when he got on the plane to return to Rome — with the cameras even aimed into the jet, where he sat with a bottle of water on his tray table before takeoff.

A good question posed (to the general public) by another member of the media the day after he left was: what are you going to do now to change, in response to the pope’s visit?

One of the Holy Father’s general themes of his pontificate has been that of “encounter,” how we encounter Christ all the time — in our prayer, in our brothers and sisters, in our world. We can ask ourselves, in an examination of conscience: am I conscious of Christ’s presence? How do I encounter Him in prayer, at home (as the pope said Sunday, we need to look at how we communicate with our tone and our gestures), at work, out in the streets, etc.?

A busload of people from Attleboro made it to Philadelphia to attend the closing Mass. Although they attended Mass while standing on a side street full of people, following what was going on at the altar via the Jumbotron, they expressed how moved they were Spiritually. Even though some anti-Catholic bigots screamed at them through megaphones (saying that priests are rapists, that we should take Jesus off of crucifixes because He has Risen, that we should not pray the Rosary, that all Catholics are going to hell) while inching up to the TSA checkpoint for a few hours, they sang hymns and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and said that they felt God’s presence even in that awkward situation. 

Back at the Vatican, the Holy Father continues his work. Of local interest, on Tuesday he named a coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Angra, which covers all of the Azores Islands. The coadjutor is Bishop João Evangelista Pimentel Lavrador, who up until now has been the Auxiliary Bishop of Porto in Continental Portugal. As coadjutor bishop he will become the bishop of the Azores automatically upon the retirement or death of the current ordinary, Bishop António de Sousa Braga, who has been serving there since 1996. Given the close relationship of the Diocese of Fall River with the Diocese of Angra (due to the immigration of lay people and clergy from the Azores to the Southcoast), we wish Bishop Pimentel well and pray for him as he begins his ministry in the islands. A number of the pilgrims from our diocese to Philadelphia were of Azorean origin — the faith that they learned there, they continue to live out here. They prayed in English, Spanish and Portuguese with their fellow Catholics who traveled with them from Massachusetts.

On the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis was told by a reporter from France that he had “become a star” in the United States and she asked him if that was good for the Church. The Holy Father replied that the title that the popes themselves use and which they encourage others to use for them is “servant of the servants of God” (the servants of God being the members of the Church, with the pope as our servant). 

“That is a little different than a star,” the pope said. “The stars are good to watch, I like to look at them in the sky in the serenity of the summer. But the pope must be — must be! — the servant of the servants of God. Yes, in the media they use this [term], but there is another truth: how many stars have we seen who burn out and fall? They are a passing thing. Rather, to be the servant of the servants of God, that is beautiful. It doesn’t go away.”

To paraphrase Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., one does not have to be a star to be in God’s show. One has to be a servant and then one will truly be important, as Jesus has told us. From this life, other than the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and the Apostles, we have no idea who the most “important” people in Heaven are (although, given the attitude of humility one needs to enter Heaven, no one there would care about any type of “ranking” amongst them). 

As we discern what changes God would like us to make in our lives in response to the pope’s visit, we need to remember this attitude of service. Whether it be working to improve the environment, to protect human life from conception to natural death, to aid those in poverty or looking for refuge in a foreign land, to protect religious liberty — whatever it is, Pope Francis would like us to be mindful that we are servants called to encounter Christ in all the people we meet.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts