Who is Pope Francis? When I visited Rome in September, I was able to attend Mass with him and a Papal audience. That didn't mean that I was able to interview him, but observations of him and of Rome can be noteworthy at any time, but certainly at this time of year.
One year ago, something new happened in the Catholic Church. The Church, guided by Holy Scripture and headed administratively and sacramentally by a direct line of men from St. Peter to Pope Francis, have followed the death of the prior Pope. Pope for the lifetime of many had been John Paul II, and he had been Pope for so long that during the Eucharistic prayer said each Sunday, his name tends to roll off the tongue. He spoke more than 20 languages, was savvy politically, and healed wounds across religions. He was energetic, and then, he became old. And stubbornly, stoutly clung to his religiously leadership. He was well loved. His successor to the papacy was basically handpicked, and did the unexpected: he abdicated when he thought he was too old to lead.
In rode an Argentinian. A South American. Also old. But breathing air and speaking , literally, new language. Literally handing coins to the poor. Literally living a different life. Yes, he was a cardinal. Yes he had the status. But no, he was God's man. He wasn't saying his predecessors weren't God's man; he just said "Let's do what Jesus said to do. Don't judge. Give alms. Love." And he hasn't been crucified for it.
And this reporter observed that this joyful soul, who does get tired, his energy and enthusiasm is also abundantly evident. Following Mass, he jumped on a jeep-like trailer and, rock-star-like, he drove through the crowd, waving and smiling. Then he came back through, in case anyone had missed him. That gave the crowd a combination of the holy and the dynamic; the awe and the personal. And that is Francis. As a common, humble man, he is able to give the common humble man inspiration. He is able to allow a small child to wander across the altar as he gives his homily, and then pat him on the leg before handing him over to his awe-struck but maybe embarrased mother. He is able to understand that human beings speaking many languages are at Mass to receive the body and blood of Christ, but also to catch a glimpse of him as Christ's representative. And he patiently , no, joyfully participates in all of it.
Easter is coming, and Holy week is when Pope Francis began his larger work a year ago. Has he changed. Very little. Has he changed hearts. Isn't that what Christianity is?