Pope Francis’ trip to the United States last month will likely make the news media’s top 10, end-of-the-year major events list.
He didn’t perform any miracles or correct any of our global problems. The untold story behind the pontiff’s gentle counsel is not what he said to the joint session of Congress, the United Nations, to crowds on the street, at Independence Hall or the jail in Philadelphia.
What Pope Francis did was unleash the compassion and biblical common sense cocooned for too long in the words from every American’s earliest faith teachers. His messages were of love, kindness, the Golden Rule, peace, protection for children, care for the planet and respect for all life.
For me, it brought back the long walks to church my siblings and I took with our mom, our Sunday school classes and lessons from the Bible. Pope Francis is just giving voice to the ethics and morality that bonds us amid the noise of advertising, entertainment, consumerism, greed, money and power.
Francis was greeted as a rock star everywhere he went. But what the 78-year-old pope was trying to do in this country was to get all Americans to sing together in old-fashioned harmonious ways instead of depending on him or others.
So many of us have simply forgotten how to work together. Being a good faith teacher turning down the noise and the gadgets that have stolen the attention we need to pay to each other is the value of having the first pope ever from the Americas lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The well-being of immigrants, the poor, those in prison and the homeless can’t be discarded. “I want to be clear,” Francis said in a speech at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.
“The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person,” he said. “The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head.”
To Congress, he reminded lawmakers that the United States began as a nation of immigrants.
“The world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II,” the pope said. “On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities.
“Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers but rather view them as persons seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”
Pope Francis in his six-day trip did not shy away from hard topics like abortion, capital punishment and the sexual abuse of children by priests. People need to be reminded “to protect and defend life at every stage in its development.”
On the abuse scandals that have rocked the church, Francis in Philadelphia apologized to the victims.
He didn’t forget climate change even though it is an untouchable topic among many conservatives.
“Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world,” Francis said. “It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the good.
“This common good also includes the Earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. We need a conversation that includes everyone since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots concern and affect us all.”
Francis’ call for people to work together was what I got from Mom. Although she has been gone for 21 years, the pope brought back her powerful and irresistible hope and need to work with others so concrete action will follow.