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The unexpected benefit of a papal visit

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/08/23

My neighbor showed me how the pope's recent trip to the African continent had far-reaching consequences.

With Pope Francis back at the Vatican, the messages that he shared on his recent 6-day trip to Africa are resounding far and wide.

In fact, when I recently bumped into Nadine, a neighbor who was born in Democratic Republic of Congo but has been living in France for the past 15 years, I realized just how impactful the pontiff’s presence had been for her.

I was leaving the house Sunday morning when I spoke with Nadine. The mom-of-two is generally tired in the mornings, as she works very hard trying to raise her family on a minimal income. While she’s a little prone to complaining — understandably considering her situation — on this particular morning she seemed not only alive, but glowing.

We had the usual chat. And then she grabbed me by my shoulders and asked me if I knew the pope was in her homeland — unaware that I work in Catholic media. Before I could answer, she started repeating Pope Francis’ address to the faithful of Congo, almost verbatim.

And I realized the papal visit had deeply affected her — even if she was listening a continent away. For Nadine, the pope had traveled to her homeland and was addressing her directly. Just as her fellow countrymen had witnessed his visit, so had she, albeit through media reports.

Francis had spoken of concerns that she understood, and deeply cared about. He made her country seem relevant and important to the Church, which it is, and that brought her great joy, and made her feel even closer to her faith.

I came away from the quick interaction a little surprised, and feeling a little ignorant. I’d seen pictures of the pope’s visit and had been more preoccupied with seeing Francis looking more frail in his wheelchair. I hadn’t thought about how his visit to the African continent might resonate profoundly for those who left their homelands in search of safety or a better life.

And I hadn’t considered for one minute the complete joy these papal visits (that take so long to arrange and require military precision) would bring to someone fatigued by life, but uplifted by her faith.

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