From the Pastor – March 17, 2013

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Lk 15:20)

I’m writing this column from Rome, where I have been blessed to be able to witness the historic election of his Holiness, Pope Francis. It is been a time of great expectation and great joy. Although I think we will learn a lot about Pope Francis as the days go on, I do want to share three small thoughts that have come to me over the last few days.

First of all, I need to help you understand the peace that filled Piazza San Pietro on the occasion of the announcement. Many “heard” on television the moment of silent prayer that Pope Francis called for. But it was more than a “moment of silence” that we sometimes experience at a sporting event or an assembly. It was a moment of profound peace. The silence was absolute, in that there was not one sound. My sister works for ABC, and she told me that the sound engineers thought they had lost their audio feed! But this silence wasn’t the “absence of noise.” It was the presence of the Holy Spirit, which filled all of us with joy.

Second, I have to point out that this election is historic because Pope Francis is the first Pope from the “new world.” One of the most memorable things I witnessed as I was leaving Piazza San Pietro after the announcement was a tiny South American nun with a big smile. With the crowd chanting “Fran-ces-co” (the Italian pronunciation, which sounds like “Fran-chess-co”), she turned around with her beautiful smile and started chanting Fran-cis-co (the Spanish pronunciation which we use for San Francisco). And I realized that as the Italians had already begun making the new Holy Father “their own,” she was making the point that he has already been “our own” as a citizen of the Americas.

And finally, just a comment on the name Francis. The Holy Father is a Jesuit, the order founded by St Ignatius Loyola. I can’t tell you exactly why the Holy Father chose Francis, but I can give you some possibilities. First, Francis was one of St Ignatius of Loyola’s greatest inspirations. Second, God called Francis to rebuild the Church. But that didn’t mean to change it; it meant to restore it to the model of the Church that Christ had founded. And he did that in his life primarily by “rebuilding” Christ in himself. I’m not sure you can find a saint that is more Christ-like than St Francis. He looked like Christ, he was poor like Christ, and he even bore the wounds of Christ – the stigmata – on his body. Pope Francis knows that the “rebuilding” of the Church begins with “rebuilding” ourselves into models of Christ.

I look forward to returning next weekend, and I’ll bring blessings from our new Holy Father in Rome.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty