Saturday, 26 September 2015


There I was,  prostrate and with mother's pearls digging into my chest during my ordination to the diaconate. Regrettably I must leave myself face down for another week.  I digress to ponder on  a 78 year old man in a long dress and the power of gospel teachings to make grown men cry.

Pope Francis' historic trip to Cuba and America had millions of us glued to our TVs.  Speculation was rife. Would the Castro brothers take out heavenly insurance and convert from Communism to Catholicism?  Would there be an assassination attempt or a lone wolf  ISIS attack?  

Would the Pontiff rant at America's politicians? Would he ignore the advice given by the Secret Service? 

None of the above. But he did make history. And he did so by simply offering the gospel message of love.

In Cuba, where religion was banned for decades and Communist ideology has ruled with an iron fist, there were no water cannons or teargas when he said, “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” 

Instead he was invited to tea with Fidel Castro and his family. Of course Francis had been key to the rapprochement between Cuba and the USA.

Francis also urged Cuban believers to play their part in transforming the country. Reminding that being a Christian “entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living it.”

History was made when he spoke gently to Congress, scene of so many bitter partisan battles in recent years. Besides receiving two standing ovations by the Republican-held seat of power, (home of ardent capitalists) he was interrupted by applause 24 times! Yet his message, in broken English, was pure gospel. As in 'love one another.' 'Give preference to the poor and vulnerable.'

While he was tough on Catholic priests and nuns, he gently urged America's politicians to be nicer to each other and work for the collective good.

For me a defining moment of the entire papal visit was seeing House Speaker John Boehner (a Republican) weep during the Pope's address to Congress. Also visibly moved was Vice-President Joe Biden (Democrat) seated beside him. Both of those powerful men are Catholics yet they have been caught up in some of the bitterest political battles of the decade. 

The following day Boehner announced his earlier than intended resignation. The turning point had been when Pope Francis humbly asked the Speaker in private to pray for him. 

As I write this political junkies like me are waiting anxiously to learn whether Biden will enter the presidential race. I have no doubt that his decision will have been influenced by the gospel message.

And I have no illusions. By next week politicians and Christians alike will all be having a go at each other. 
Maybe we could begin by being a little less fierce and a whole lot less judgemental.

But the optimist in me hopes that the widely publicised papal visit will remind all of us to vote good men and women into power.

There is one group that is going to be smiling for a long time. The marketing folk in Fiat must think they've died and gone to heaven. 

Among my favourite tweets are: "What would Jesus drive?"  and "Who knew a hatchback would hatch a pope."

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