I’ll have more to say on this topic later this week, but I just wanted to share a bit about why I am thrilled to be greeting Pope Francis at Andrews Air Force Base tomorrow afternoon.
In 2005, I was a young high school student on spring break with my family in San Diego. I was glued to the television in my aunt and uncle’s living room, basically holding a one-person vigil for the dying Pope John Paul II.
I have always been fascinated by the papacy because it blends so much of the things I seek out in other places: a little pomp and circumstance, a long history, some mystery, and a lot of quirk. All of these can basically be summed up in the Swiss Guards.
Two years later, I got to visit the Vatican on a school trip to Italy (I know. I was so lucky.), and it fed the fascination.
Fast forward five more years, and I was at work at PBS during the last conclave. When you work in television programming, you have a TV on your desk, and when you are Lukewarm Catholic Brigid Hogan, that TV is definitely going to be tuned to papal coverage. No way was I going to miss white smoke or a Habemus Papam! Because even when I was too cool to be observant, I was still super excited about this moment in history with a pope resigning and a new guy stepping up.
I still had enough Catholic knowledge stored up to have some favorites going into the conclave and was rooting for a New World Cardinal from a religious order. No, I did not guess Jorge Bergoglio. I was pulling for Sean O’Malley but was expecting to be wrong because why would they ever elect a New World Cardinal from a religious order?!
Then they did.
Here was this simple man, a Jesuit, being elected and taking the name Francis. I knew Jesuits — my grandma basically grew up on a Jesuit college campus and they educated all my uncles! And Francis? I knew all about him! My Confirmation name is Chiara – Clare – so he was basically my patron saint, too. This was a man with such familiarity to me. He didn’t seem like a celebrity grandfather like JPII, the only pope I’d known for most of my life, and I always felt like Pope Benedict XVI seemed distant and academic. Pope Francis felt like someone that could have been my parish priest, and here he was — Habemus Papam!
That was the reminder I needed. That the Church was that familiar home. That the Big C Church was just as much where I belonged as the parish in my hometown. That being a normal person and a sinner was the same as everyone else. That the metric for being welcome at Mass was just going to Mass. So I did. I started going back to Mass more regularly than my annual solo Ash Wednesday and Easter appearances and with the family when I was home. And then, around the time Pope Francis really got rolling with the whole tour-de-force thing he’s got going on, I got on a similar train of thought.
I am not a person to do things by halves. If I was coming back to the Church, well, I was going to do it right, dammit. And the rest is history. I’m over here reading theology and participating in the sacraments and going all in on my diocese and parish. And yes, it does feel like home. It is home.
Through this whole process of slowly creeping back into the Church, I had the uncanny feeling that someone was praying me through it. So if it was you, you have some ninja prayer skills and I would like to send you a list of intentions. Let me know. Thanks. I need your help because sheesh, I’m kind of a disaster.
All that to say — if all this pope manages to do is convince a few bad Catholics that they can be decent Catholics or a few decent Catholics that they can be great disciples, I think he has done a great job. Who cares if the media like to misconstrue him at every turn or if Trads get embarrassed by him or Progressives think he is basically the second coming? Pope Francis is a wonderfully human pope that embodies the best of what we can be as a Church: welcoming, merciful, humble, vulnerable, open, and loving. I think there are at least a few of us here in the States that should take those qualities as a reminder. I know I need to.
Pray for me. Tomorrow, I’ll be praying for you.