A mother and grandmother pens a heartfelt open letter to Pope Francis on the first anniversary of his election to the papacy.
Just one verse each day.
Forgive me for addressing you like this, but in our country, we have a saying: “a cat may look at a king!” Besides, you began your pontificate by asking not only for our prayers, but mysteriously, for our blessing. So I cannot help myself: if I think about you in this way, wanting you to be deeply blessed, the words bubble up and there is so much I want to tell you. Solo perche io sono una madre… only because, well, I am a mother.
I know that you like mothers. As a mother and a grandmother, that makes me feel very happy. I feel that you know the sort of concerns that mothers have: not just biological mothers, but spiritual mothers too (woe betide the biological mother who is not prepared to be a spiritual mother). You spoke last Easter of how mothers and grandmothers pass on the faith, along with the life we give to our children. You also spoke to women religious about being mothers first and foremost, because it is motherhood which guarantees spiritual fecundity.
I should like your pontificate to be so fruitful! I should like the Church to show good fruit, for as you have reminded us, the Church is first and foremost a Mother. A mother, because she is in the midst of “the love story of the Holy Spirit.” I love the fact that you said those words to employees of the Vatican Bank! Because you are right: we will never let go of our all-too-human deal-making and power broking until we feel, in the depths of our hearts, that we are in fact dealing with something – or Someone – that goes way, way beyond the world of the human functionary. That is rooted in what it means to be part of a family, with a mother and a father.
Do you know, Papa, my favourite photo from this first year? It was when, around Christmas, someone (a woman!) put a real live lamb on your shoulders. I have always loved the image of Christ the Shepherd carrying the lamb. When I am weary and depressed, I sometimes imagine I am that lamb, nestled up against the neck of Jesus, no longer having to worry about her wobbly legs and seeing everything from a wonderful new perspective. If only we could always see in this way. It would prevent many tragedies, many misunderstandings. If only we saw one another as God sees us…
Shall I tell you, Holy Father, why I love you so much? Because I think you try very hard to see others in that way. Your gaze feels benign, especially for those of us who feel vulnerable and sometimes hardly know where to turn. I feel you know how to address wounds in this “field hospital” we find ourselves in. I feel you also know how to listen. I like that you want to live in the Casa Santa Marta among many other people. That if someone were gossiping in the breakfast queue, he might find, to his mortification, that the Pope himself was standing right behind him.
I like that you are transparent. I know many people have rolled their eyes about the interviews you have given, but I feel reassured to know that the Pope is reflecting intelligently and perceptively about the challenges of our time. I like that you listen to advice, but that you also think for yourself and take energetic action when you feel the situation calls for it. I like that you prefer us to go out on the streets and experience a little mess, even make a few mistakes, rather than sit behind ecclesial walls. I especially like that you take advice from the Pope Emeritus, and that you respect and love him.
I wish people would not criticise you before they have seen “in the round” the things that you are trying to accomplish, the spirit you are trying to inspire. I wish they would be more grateful that you are standing there in the chapel of Santa Marta, giving us, almost daily, such down-to-earth spiritual advice, applicable to “normal people.” I love that you are speaking to all of us, from the woman scrubbing out the sink to the cardinals in their curial offices. I love that your first response to anyone is to give them the benefit of the doubt rather than listening to the clattering voices of detraction.
Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI left us an incredible legacy about what it means to be human and to think with the mind of the Church, which guarantees our humanity. But perhaps what we need now, in order to unpack and apply all this, is to learn all over again how to be true Christians. I feel inspired by the direction you, as a good Jesuit, give. I trust, Papa Francesco, that you will indeed help to “rebuild my Church,” because it is not stones that make a Church, but human souls.
One last thing. I wish I had I been one of those journalists on the plane coming back from Rio, because when you mentioned that you suffered from sciatica, I like to think I might have just let you sit down and have your lunch.
Leonie Caldecottis an editor of Magnificat (UK and Ireland edition) and Second Spring Journal. She lives in Oxford, England where she runs the Centre for Faith and Culture with other members of her family. She speaks and writes frequently on cultural, spiritual, and family issues, and is the author of several plays, as well as the book What Do Catholics Believe?.