The Vicar of Christ elicits tears from a hardened reporter
When I first discovered that my press credentials had come through for covering the Pope Francis trip in NY, I was a little bit stressed. After all, I don’t live anywhere near NY anymore. I had to take two plane flights to get there – and I had to figure out several logistics for my five children during the week. Also, I am not fond of large crowds. In fact, I can honestly say that I had developed a kind of phobia of them as of late.
But I couldn’t say “No” to covering Pope Francis. After all, a papal visit to the US doesn’t happen every day.
What shocked me the most about seeing him was how incredibly moving the whole experience was for me, personally. I had lived in Rome for five years and covered the last years of Pope John Paul II. JPII had been my hero. I was also extremely fond of Pope Benedict XVI – who often gave press conferences for us Vatican journalists when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. I didn’t expect any greater feelings than those I had already experienced with the previous two popes.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Security had us journalists go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral six hours prior to Pope Francis’ arrival. In addition to security checks, we had to get through large crowds – and yet the crowds did not faze me at all. My phobia seemed to have vanished.
We were seated in the side altar areas of the newly renovated cathedral – which looked spectacular after a three-year renovation. When 6:30 pm rolled around, we began to hear cheering coming from outside, coming closer and closer. Though my experience of St. Patrick’s Cathedral had always been one of respectful silence – the moment Pope Francis walked in, everyone jumped to their feet and literally roared: priests, seminarians, even Mother Teresa’s nuns – the Missionaries of Charity. Arms shot up with cell phones, cameras and even i-Pads to capture this rapturous moment.
But something else happened which is hard to describe. It was like the very atmosphere of the cathedral had suddenly changed. I could feel the presence and force of Pope Francis’ love for all of us. The screens throughout the cathedral showed his sweet face as he shook people’s hands – and sought out the smallest and weakest in the crowds.
I had been sitting next to a journalist from The Economist all day. She was not a practicing Catholic. Yet, when I turned to her now, she was crying.
“I’m supposed to be a jaded journalist,” she said. “So why am I crying?”
I could understand her sentiments.
Earlier that morning, while I was waiting to go through security, I met a woman named Estela, who worked for the federal government in Washington. She had watched the papal parade in DC the day before. I asked her how it had been for her.
“Absolutely amazing,” she said.
Estela had recently come back to the Catholic Church in a big way because of Pope Francis. She told me that her cubicle was plastered with his pictures and his quotes.
She watched the DC papal parade with a group of high school boys from Gonzaga – a local Catholic school. Apparently, the Pope had come close and waved at them. When Estela looked at them, after the encounter, all the boys had tears in their eyes.
“Boys,” she told them, “Hold onto this feeling. As you go through life and you get challenged, don’t forget this moment. Because this is your Catholic faith.”
Later on, I found myself waiting for a flight at LaGuardia Airport. I met a cameraman named Bob from Univision. He had also just spent a few days in NY covering the papal visit.
He told me that he wasn’t Catholic – but that his wife was. She often told people that she had “survived” Catholicism growing up on Palm Beach, Florida. Apparently, she’d had several bad experiences growing up which led her to leave the Catholic faith for her whole life.
“This Pope has caused her to look at Catholicism again,” said Bob. “She is seriously thinking about going back to Church now.”
When I interviewed Matt Pinto of Ascension Press earlier today, he nailed it on the head.
“There is something almost supernatural when you come into contact with the papacy. It is a movement of the spirit and it brings about a deep resonance inside — whether people know it or not,” he said.
I felt that resonance deeply and am grateful for it.