When Saint Pope John Paul the second died, I heard of many people who cried. I was fascinated by that. How could somebody cry over the death of a public figure whom they had never met? Perhaps the fact that at the time of his death, I had only been a confirmed Catholic for a year or two contributed to my inability to comprehend this. I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but was raised by two parents who never attended church. My paternal grandmother tried her best to convince me to go to Mass with her. I rarely went. For reasons unknown to me during college, God led me on a path toward my current teaching position at a Catholic school. He brought me into a faith I didn’t care much about growing up. At the time of John Paul’s death, I had no idea of the impact he had made throughout the recent years. I simply did not pay attention. Of course, it was hard to notice anything outside of myself for many years as I battled to overcome personal mental illness demons.
But now, as I begin my 10th year teaching in a Catholic school, I have taken notice of Pope Francis, as so many people around the world also have. The day that the white smoke was seen in St. Peter’s Square, we streamed it live in each of our classrooms. This was history! And the kids were getting to experience it live! Granted, the 3 o’clock bell rang before Pope Francis appeared on the balcony for the first time to announce himself to the world. He has not ceased to make history since that first day of his papacy. There are so many examples of things he has said, acts of kindness and gentleness that he has done, that it’s easy to see why he has been called “the people’s pope”.
As I have written before, I tend to have very vivid dreams each and every night. Over the summer, I dreamt that I was in Rome and touring a cathedral when Pope Francis came out to visit the small group of tourists that I was a part of. In my dream, we hugged. A full hug in which his arms encircled me, and in that hug, without him saying a word, I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s love. In that hug, I felt the full power of God’s forgiveness. I felt that through God, everything is alright. The feeling was very intense, even in a dream. It was the next morning that I decided to contact my priest and arrange a time to come for Confession…for the first time in 10 years.
And now, seeing coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to my country on nearly every news program that I watch, I am filled with pride in my faith. I am fascinated by the possibility of being in his presence, even if it’s just to be among so many other thousands of people pressed together along a parade route. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, who many people are against, was moved to tears many times while listening to Pope Francis address Congress, and even as he stood behind him as he waved to people on a balcony at the capital. I can only imagine what that must have felt like for him.
I realize that Pope Francis is technically, just a man. An imperfect human like all the rest of us. But what he represents, what his message is, the hope he brings, is enough to convince me that dedicating my life to teaching the youth about God, whether in school during the week or in Faith Formation classes on Sunday mornings, is the right life for me. And I am also convinced, that when it is time for Pope Francis to be called home to the Lord, I will be among those with tears freely flowing.