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October 1, 2015
Column #1,779
The Pope: Humble and Loving
By Mike McManus

Three qualities of Pope Francis were particularly moving to Americans – his humility, his outreach to the vulnerable and, most important, his love for all.

I have never seen a world leader – let alone one who leads 1.2 billion Catholics – be so humble. He insisted on riding in a tiny Fiat, dwarfed by Secret Service limos accompanying him. It reminded me that in Rome, he does not live in the elegant Vatican, but in a two-room guest apartment.

"His message resonates in a complex world because it is simple," wrote David Ignatius for The Washington Post. "He disdains the trappings of power, the pomp and fanfare, and thereby enhances his real power."

For example, after every public address, he asked his hearers to "Pray for me." as he did on the night he was elected Pope.

R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, a thoughtful Catholic magazine, was very encouraged by "the spirit of unity" when the Pope spoke to the House and Senate. Though he was dealing with controversial issues, such as immigration, "There were standing ovations from both sides of the aisle. No one is proposing that we will turn our back as a nation which welcomed immigrants." (Except Trump.)

After addressing Congress, Francis had lunch, not with their leaders but with the homeless. He reminded them that when Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had nowhere to go. "Like Saint Joseph, you might ask, `Why are we homeless without a place to live?’ These are questions which all of us might ask. Why do these brothers and sisters, have no place to live?"

Similarly, he met with 100 inmates at the largest of Philadelphia’s six prisons, telling them, "All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed." His message to them: "This time in your life can only have one purpose – to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society."

He reminded them that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and acknowledged, that everyone – including prisoners and himself – has something "we need to be cleansed of, or purified from." He waded into the audience of prisoners, grasping their hands, hugging them.

Later in a Mass witnessed by hundreds of thousands via huge screens, Francis said in Spanish, "`Whoever gives you a cup in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus. These little gestures we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all of the other things we do. They are the quiet things, done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers."

"They are the little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion," he said. "Like the warm supper we look forward to at night…Love is shown by little things." He even cracked a joke about "mothers-in-law."

After being criticized for praising bishops for their handling of the church’s sex abuse scandals with "mortification and great sacrifice," the Pope met with five victims of sexual abuse. Francis told them, "I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those who you trusted. We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow."

Later, he told bishops in Philadelphia, "God weeps. I commit to a careful oversight of the church to ensure that youth are protected and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable."

David Clohessy, President of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), was unimpressed: "We’ve heard these promises before. As best as we can tell, in nearly five decades as a church official, he’s never held any colleague or underling accountable for concealing child sex crimes." Clohessy has lists of current U.S. cardinals and bishops who have covered up the misdeeds of clergy. He asserted, "Dozens of priests across the U.S. remain on the job who should not be."

It was the only dark cloud in an otherwise uplifting, six-day visit to America.

One of the TV commentators, watching this humble servant of God move graciously in these very different worlds, acknowledged, "I am a lapsed Catholic. But I am going back to the Church."

After the 70 million U.S. Catholics, America’s second largest group of Christians are former Catholics. Millions might return.

If so, Pope Francis will be remembered as not just a holy man, but as the saint who restored American Catholicism.

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