Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope Francis: the Voice of the Shepherd

Where's Waldo? Can you spot the Swiss Guard,  standing
behind the first block of seats in St. Peter's Square?
Yesterday's Papal Audience was an incredible experience. I lived in Rome for over two years, during the time of the Great Jubilee. The only times I saw St. Peter's Square filled to capacity was during extra-special events, like the canonization of St. Faustina. Most of the time, even on major feasts, there were at the most 30 to 50,000 people. Basically, up to the obelisk. Max.

At yesterday's ordinary, everyday, mid-September general audience, the piazza was filled clear to the back. Bernini's colonnade couldn't hold all the people who had come to see and hear Pope Francis. And so Pope Francis went out to them.  The Popemobile took somewhere in the vicinity of 25 minutes to make the rounds of the piazza.

From the front rows where I was, even though I was (blush) standing on a chair, it was impossible most of that time to tell where the Pope was at any given moment: I could not hear the roar of the crowd, or even see their hands waving as they reached out to touch the Pope. This didn't exactly make it easy to train my camera on him when his little white zucchetto did come into view.

The experience reminded me of the passage in the Gospel where "the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the Word of God" (Lk. 5:1), or that other passage, from John (Chapter 10) where Jesus explains that his sheep listen to his voice; they recognize the voice of the true shepherd and they follow him.

While we were waiting (hour after hour) in the morning sun for the program to begin, a young man in a cassock made his way across the front row, over the legs and feet of the elderly people seated in those very first chairs. He slipped around to the edge of the barricade at the center aisle and positioned himself there, assuring everyone that he would crouch down and not block their view. When one elderly lady protested, "We have been here since six this morning!" he reproached her: "If that is how you think, you have come here with the wrong attitude." No amount of remonstrating could convince him that he was acting inappropriately, so the old folks made enough of a fuss to bring a plain-clothes Swiss Guard over. The matter was taken care of expeditiously. Last night, and again today, I prayed for that young priest/seminarian (actually hoping he was a fraud). This is the sort of thing that sends Christ's sheep running out of the pasture; to have so young a person assuming such an overbearing clericalist sense of entitlement made me feel ill. Of the 100,000 or so in the square yesterday, I hope that this young man managed, somehow, to grasp Francis' message: ministry means being at the service of others.

I'm glad that for now Pope Francis is kind of a superstar. Even if his words are often taken out of context or completely misunderstood by people who until yesterday paid no attention at all to the Catholic Church, there is a chance that the message will be heard by those who have been waiting for the voice of the shepherd.

No comments: