|just as I meet him, about to kiss his ring|
|after I kiss his ring, making my request - with my intense look!|
|making my request|
|Francis' hand in the air as he's patting my hand|
|Francis patting my hand|
|Listening to the Pope!|
Just a week ago I had the grace to meet Pope Francis. Every time I see the picture it gives me a little shock and I think, “This really happened?” “That’s me!”
After our first practice on Saturday the 6th, they had given us special tickets and told us to meet at the Pieta by 8am the morning of the mass. Nice meeting place! Once all of us deacons and the acolytes were together the morning of the 7th, we had our second and final practice. Then we went back by the Pieta to put on our vestments. I had only been a deacon for a week at the time (and even two weeks now is really just starting!), so I was still trying to figure out how you were supposed to wear everything.
There was a little four-foot-tall nun manning a table with a lot of vestments. Us deacons waited in a line, while the Bishops would come and just grab things, but she fought them off bravely. There were something like 100 deacons all told, but there were two types: “deacons” and “deacons of the Pope”. Somehow, I had made the cut and was one of the five “deacons of the Pope”.(how that happened is another story!) The first vestment she had to give everyone was the alb, the white garment that covers you from neck to feet. She asked each one what type of deacon he was. She quickly handed out some albs to the “deacons” , but when the five of us “deacons of the Pope” arrived, she stopped for a moment to size each one up. When she came to me she said “155 or 160” – meaning centimeters. She decided on 155 and reached way back on the table and brought out a bag with an alb inside. As she slipped it out and held it up to me, I realized that it was brand new. It was simple yet beautiful, with a special trim on the cuffs and hem. That’s what “deacons of the Pope” wear!
Then another nun herded us over to a large table. It held the “dalmatics”, the vestments deacons have worn for centuries, which originally was the garment Imperial Roman messengers used. But before the dalmatic you have to put on the cincture, a rope belt. Sister wouldn’t let me put it on myself, she insisted on doing it with her own special knot. That was a hard one to get undone later! Then we very carefully put on the heavy green dalmatics. I quickly realized that the gold trim on mine was not your typical imitation gold thread. It was gold, and heavy. Wow. With all the vestments on – cassock, alb, cincture, stole, and dalmatic, I felt wrapped up like I was wearing the cowardly lion costume in the Wizard of Oz.
Once vested, sister shooed us over to behind the protective glass in front of the Pieta. Everyone in Saint Peter’s had started praying the rosary together, and there, in front of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the five of us deacons and the acolytes prayed along with the Pope’s Master of ceremonies. As we entered, I saw all of the acolytes against the glass, as far from the Pieta as they could be. I thought to m yself, “Kevin, why not?”, and walked right up to the Pieta, maybe 4 feet away. I had seen it once before from up close, but not like this, for twenty minutes. It was marvelous. As we prayed, I spiritually placed each of my family members and friends in our lady’s lap, one by one. When you’re that close to the greatest religious sculpture of all time, praying along with 10,000 people, and about to meet the Pope, praying isn’t all that hard!
After the rosary, we waited there before the Pieta. All of Pope Francis’ vestments were laid out on the altar. I didn’t know where Francis would come from, but everyone’s attention seemed focused on a door to the right of the Pieta. When flashes started coming from within, I figured that Francis was near.
It was 9:18am, 12 minutes before mass, when he appeared. We all formed a kind of horse shoe-shaped semi-circle so that he could greet each one. First he greeted the altar boys, then the acolytes. Then he came to us deacons. The night before I had been wondering if I’d be allowed to say anything to him, and if so, what I’d say. I figured that asking him for his blessing for my family and friends would be the best thing I could do. When he got to me, I kissed his ring and he looked me in the eyes. I said “Santo Padre, su bendición para mi familia y mi sacerdocio”, “Holy Father, may I have your blessing for my family and my future priesthood?” He smiled and patted my hand, saying, “Claro, pues claro que sí,” “Sure, why of course”. That was all.
But goodness, there was a lot more going on in that little room between the Pieta and the Pope. I had thought I’d be tongue tied when Francis came into the room. I mean, he’s the Pope for heaven’s sake! I was expecting my heart to start thudding in my chest, to start sweating, to be struck silent by his presence. But none of that happened. I felt perfectly at peace, not a bit nervous. Francis is not a power-personality. He is what he is, a simple and joyful man. He was in no hurry. My friend Deacon Ricardo talked to him for about a minute, no problem. When you talk to him, it’s as if you are the only person in the world for him. And he doesn’t make you feel scared or overwhelmed, he’s more like a kind uncle with a twinkle in his eye and surprises up his sleeves.
A good friend got me a whole bunch of the pictures of meeting Pope Francis. Here’s the series. After we all greeted him, we went out and got in our places for the procession in. It was just then that I remembered I had a letter I had meant to give to the Pope. It was in my chest pocket, and it took a good bit of wriggling to get my hand past sister’s special knot and grab the envelope. But I managed to reach it, and slipped back by the Pieta. The Pope wasn’t there anymore, but I found his personal secretary, and entrusted my letter to him. I’m sure he’ll give my letter to the Pope. We’ll see what Francis replies!
Right now I’m in Wisconsin with a bunch of brothers and fathers for a week of vacation. This morning we went canoing on Lake Koshkonong, and then we headed over to Culver’s for some ice creamover a game of Monopoly Deal. Great fun!
As I waited yesterday for my connecting flight at Dulles airport, I got a burger at Wendy’s, and it was gloriously good. It’s great being back in the USA.
God bless you all,