I have had so many remarkable experiences during my three years in France, but one of the most memorable and awe-inspiring moments happened this summer in Rome while I was serving as a short-term nanny for a dear friend’s 4-year-old daughter and I was included in a private audience with Pope Francis. I took this “job” not because of the papal possibility, mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille, and I always jump at the chance to spend time with them. The prospect of meeting the Pope was appealing, but I did not actually think it would happen.
But then it did.
As you may know, I was raised in an extremely liberal Catholic church (oxymoron, yes) during Vatican II, when Catholicism was (in some ways) being rethought, rejuvenated and adapted to the modern world. There was this whole exciting movement to bring the Church back into the realm of hands-on social justice and working for peace. Of course then Ronald Reagan came to power, and the USA began our slippery slide into supposed “Christian/Focus on the Family” values and the Catholic Church did a complete three-sixty turnabout, and gave up on Vatican II.
That is when I left the Catholic Church. Which is not to say that I haven’t been to mass in 25 years. I have. Which is not to say I don’t pray. I do. Which is not to say I am not spiritual. I am. But, I have been sorely disappointed in the leadership of the Catholic Church for decades.
That was until Argentinian-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Papa Francesco on March 13, 2013. He chose Francesco/Francis to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, who Americancatholic.org describes as: “a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.”
Throughout his cleric life Pope Francis, “has been distinguished for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths. He is known for having a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by choosing to reside in the Domus Sactae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors…and he (also) favors simpler vestments void of ornamentation…” plus he has a wonderful, genuine smile, and he loves le foot.
In my opinion, this Pope has potential, and possibly lots of it. Papa Francesco is the first Pope from the Americas, the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European Pope since Pope Gregory III in 741—1,272 years ago! A non-Eurocentric Pope—now this I love. (Another fun fact in his favor: before starting his seminary studies, Papa Francesco worked briefly as a nightclub bouncer.)
So, by the time the hope of meeting Pope Francis became a reality, I was pretty darn excited. When the day came, we were finally forwarded all the papal protocol. What to wear? Dark colors, covered shoulders. Kiss the ring, or shake his hand? Either, although shaking his hand seemed to be his preference. Take pictures with the Swiss Guards? No, no, no. Except if you have a bambino. Does the Pope accept gifts? Yes. Many in our audience brought books, prayers, and small objects. Can a curious and precocious 4-year-old survive 4 hours of waiting, hundreds of steps through glorious rarely seen Italian galleries, and a 45-minute audience? Yes. Thank you Haribo gummy bears and good parenting from her maman.
The whole day was astonishing. From the moment we stepped into the Papal Palace and began winding our way up the marble staircases through the art filled halls, graced with gilded ceilings, mosaic floors, and Michelangelo frescos until we finally arrived in the splendid Hall of the Consistory, I felt like I was in a dream.
I also wished I was walking those stairs and hallways with my own faithful maman and my loving, no-nonsense, fierce Catholic Busha. I was deeply moved by the experience and Pope Francis’ remarks on religious freedom. I hoped these two strong women who are no longer with me were looking down from above and smiling at me. And with Francis at the helm, I ended the day with a smile and a feeling of hope about the direction that the Church may be moving.
mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille: but because I love my friend and her daughter
To read more about what Papa Francesco had to say to our papal audience from Saint John’s University, click HERE.