Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. has been marked by extremes. He spoke to Congress with all its pomp, then he rushed to a Catholic Charities lunch at the Archdiocese of Washington DC, feeding local families. The program ensures many families get a hot, nutritious meal on a regular basis.
The meal was prepared keeping in mind the Pope’s favorite foods. But he never got a chance to eat the Asian chicken pasta salad, carrots, red peppers, a roll, lemonade or one of the scrumptious brownies. Instead, he spent his time visiting with the 500 attending – shaking hands, kissing babies, and bestowing blessings. Spending precious moments lavishing a kind touch and comforting words on the sometimes broken-hearted people living in tough circumstances.
In New York City, he again touched lives, leading a crowd of about 80,000 people through Central Park parade style, and then later holding Mass in Madison Square Gardens with about 18,000 in attendance. One observer noted it was probably the most respectful crowd the Gardens has ever seen. Then he quietly met with many family members of the 3,000 who died on 9/11 at a service on the memorial grounds, remembering the solemn nature of the location.
At times, Pope Francis seemed deeply wearied from the exertions of this trip and having to forego physical therapy he’s been receiving for his knee and ongoing sciatica problems. But then came his moments doing things he loves best, meeting with the individuals, spending time with the children, these recharged his battery, making it easier for him to give speeches to Congress and the U.N.
He enjoyed time with children at Our Lady Queen of Angels School, in the middle of a heavily Hispanic project neighborhood in East Harlem. The “slum” Pope, as he has been dubbed, engaged in happy Spanish chatter with the children, including his first experience using a touch-screen computer after receiving an impromptu lesson from an 8-year-old. In the School’s gymnasium he visited with 150 immigrants and refugees, some not legally in the U.S., speaking about his dream that children everywhere have the opportunity of a good education.
And to the U.N. he admonished leaders to consider the rights of nature not to be ravaged for greed and power, a new idea in his social teachings.
All-in-all, the Pope’s ability to move people to action and draw a crowd remains strong. Also, his love for those less fortunate continues to shine in the words he speaks, but more importantly in the things he does, wherever he travels. This guy appears to live his PR wherever he goes.