We watched the jumbo Tron screen as his little Fiat pulled up to the front steps of the church building and now anxiously stared at the back of the nave, each of us hoping to be the first to spot the bishop of Rome all dressed in white. After what seemed like an eternity, we heard it, the sound of a door opening and soon after the pope, donning that well-known and gentle smile, walked down the aisle sending a wave of applause and cheers throughout the entire basilica. Little did I know that in less than two minutes, he would be within three feet of me and for a second in time, I would be face to face with the Successor of St. Peter.
That evening after the Mass, as the city settled down preparing for the festivities to come the following morning, I stayed awake praying and meditating. I recalled the joy and excitement that filled my soul throughout the day. A series of questions came to mind. What was so special about this man we call the pope? Why did I fill so blessed to be in his presence? And what did the Holy Spirit want to share with me through this experience? It was after some time in silence with the Lord that I realized the profound importance of this Argentinian priest who became the bishop of Rome and the reason why his office as inheritor St. Peter’s ministry is so valuable to the life of the Church.
For Catholics, the pope is much more than some famous old guy who lives in Rome. He is a representative of that reality which is the core of Catholicism: a divine unity of grace which makes us “one body” with “Christ as our head and cornerstone” (Rom. 12:5, Col. 1:18). The papal office is a testament to the promise of Jesus made in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are Peter! Upon this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matt. 16:18). When we see the pope, look to him for guidance or listen to him with intent, we reaffirm our confidence of faith in the Lord who loves the Church as a bride and sacrificed His life on the cross for the sake of her sanctification (Eph. 5:25).
In the end, it is not simply Pope Francis’ admirable humility or refreshing pastoral zeal that makes him so attractive and inspirational. These are indeed beautiful qualities of his personality. But, what is most remarkable is the fact that he is a Christian disciple who said “yes” to a vocation that transcends the confines of his personality. This “yes” has led him thousands of miles from his home and has thrust him into service before a divine mystery of which he is neither the originator nor sustainer. He is a man who embodies for us the faith of St. Peter who, at the cost of his own life, professed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of all.
I witnessed this truth firsthand as thousands of Catholics from the furthest bounds of our nation gathered together in prayer, united in the praise of Jesus Christ with the Successor of St. Peter. My bothers and sisters, after spending a day with the pope, I can say the following without any hint of doubt: Jesus Christ is alive and so is His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. May we be proud to profess it in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord!