Catholic Spirituality

A Year of the “Francis Effect”

One year ago today I stood with my little family under the left arm of Bernini’s colonnade, squinting through the rain and craning my neck to keep the solitary smoke stack jutting from the roof of the Capella Sistina in my line of sight. As the crowd continued to surge, Romans and tourists alike pouring in from all directions in the dark night, mounting barricades and hopping over wrought-iron railings to secure a spot, I hushed my wailing 11 month old, fumbling in the stroller basket beneath him for the bottle of prosecco we’d brought along ‘just in case.’

I had a good feeling about round 5 of the consistory’s vote.

Suddenly a puff of…what was that? Was it black? No, it was grayish…it was, no, no…it was white! White smoke!

The crowd went berserk, us included. My heavily pregnant Italian friend and I shrieked and hugged each other, slapping high fives and whooping over the crowd noise. It was a roaring tidal wave of pure joy as voices in dozens and dozens of languages clamored and shouted for joy. And then there was only one language …in latin we heard those immortal words intoned for all the world to hear:

Habemus Papam.

We have a pope.

And while it would be close to an hour before he made his now famous appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, looking more like a stunned deer in the headlights than the charismatic leader of the world’s largest Church, we didn’t stop celebrating for even one of those 60 minutes.

Long after the last drops of the bottle of prosecco had been emptied out, and long past the bedtimes of the squirming toddlers we’d toted with us, he finally emerged to a roaring crowd.

And the first thing he asked? Do you remember?

Pray for me.

It was unprecedented. But then, so was his choice of the moniker Franciscus. And while we’d been certain the announcement of that seraphic name meant our boy from Boston, Cardinal O’Malley (himself a Franciscan) had been tapped for the big job, we nonetheless fell swiftly in love with our very first Latin American papa as he haltingly began his papacy from a rain-drenched balcony overlooking a square teeming with humanity…and iPads.

We loved him right away. And we’ve spent the past year loving him, being challenged by him, being shaken from complacency by him…and falling in love with Jesus all over again, at his invitation.

So one year out under the Francis effect, I say bring it on, Papa. Bring us the Gospel message of poverty, of radical engagement, of discomfort and even, dare I say, suffering? You are a breath of fresh air in an era stifled by selfishness, by sameness, by the tiresome parade of shock and awe trotted out by the secular culture in an attempt to reinvigorate a weary and wearisome world.

Christ  and His Church is more radical than anything you’re reading on Huffington Post. And while Rolling Stone may have thought they captured his essence quite nicely with their hatchet job of a cover story last month…they didn’t even come close to the real thing.

So keep stirring it up. Keep calling us on. Keep making people, by fits and starts, both insanely elated and intensely concerned. It’s so good for us. All of us.

Happy anniversary, Papa.


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