Just before the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960, there were jokes and even some ridiculous worries that since Kennedy was a Catholic, the pope in Rome was packing his bags to move to the United States and take over the country.
Last week, one could almost think it had actually happened – that the pope had “taken over.” He actually did for a time. He captivated everyone he met; he inspired and moved millions of Americans of every walk of life; he gave a spiritual “pep talk” to the U.S. Congress; he showed that humility, kindness and wisdom should be the qualities of a great leader – not weapons, threats and cruelty.
What is most remarkable about the pope’s visit is how he kept underlining, through his actions, the essence of the gospel messages about helping the poor, the dispossessed, the outcasts, the marginalized. Pope Francis met with homeless people, with immigrants, with school children in East Harlem, with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, with prisoners. All through his American trip, again and again, he emphasized the gospel message, which is basically the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
His many talks were powerful and convincing in their quiet and simple ways. He did not harangue people; he did not politicize issues; he did not use ornate word constructions; he spoke very simply, using down-to-earth language, right from his heart.
There are an estimated 70 million Catholics in the United States, but Pope Francis reached and moved many more people than Catholics. His messages are truly universal ones that have the power to touch a chord in everyone, no matter what their religion or lack of religion. He even moved many people in the U.S. Congress to tears. What a spiritual feat that was.
Wouldn’t it be grand if Pope Francis could make a similar trip to Russia, to Iraq, to Iran, to North Korea, to Syria. There are many tyrants, monsters and terrorists living in those places who need to hear the pope’s message of kindness and love for others. As is the case with ISIS, however, such people bent on cruelty and destruction are almost certainly tone-deaf to any messages promoting decency and kindness. It would take more than the pope – and more than a few miracles – to get through to such rocky hearts and stony minds. It’s a shame.
But, in the meantime, we can certainly hope the pope keeps traveling, inspiring with his messages, being an example of simplicity, humility and good works. Maybe – just maybe – some kind of miracle will take place, and the pope’s deeply human messages will catch on and touch hearts and minds in the most unlikely places.