The Popemobile has been packed up and sent back to the Vatican. TV pundits have moved on to their next story. Pretty much everyone who has an opinion on Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. has given it and then some. What, if anything, do we take away from it?
I’m a liberal Protestant, so I’ve got my gripes with Pope Francis and Roman Catholic doctrine. As gracious as this pope seems to be, he and his church still have a long way to go in my book concerning the ordination of women, human reproduction, and loving LGBTQ people. Don’t even get me started about the news that Francis met with Kim Davis (although Father James Martin helped me with a little perspective).
Even with my disagreements with Pope Francis, I think Pope Francis got a lot of things right. I was at times profoundly moved by his words and actions during his trip to America.
I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis when I began preparing for this coming Sunday’s sermon. The Gospel reading in the lectionary for Oct. 4 includes Mark 10:13-16, which tells of Jesus blessing children.
Twice in the previous chapter, Jesus tells his closest followers to welcome children and to learn from them what it means to experience the Realm of God. Yet, as so often happens in Mark’s Gospel, those closest to Jesus who should know him best don’t seem to get him at all.
The disciples take it upon themselves to turn away parents bringing their children to Jesus. Jesus was angry about what the disciples had done. Again, he tells the disciples that God’s Realm belongs to children. Then he takes the children into his arms and blesses them.
Last week, as Pope Francis left the White House and travelled down the streets of Washington, D.C., a 5-year-old girl ran out on the street ahead of him. Somehow she eluded all the police officers and Secret Service agents.
Before law enforcement officials could get her off the street, Francis gestured for his vehicle to stop and told them to bring the girl to him. The TV cameras captured the small girl handing the pope a t-shirt and a letter. Then the pope spoke with her, embraced her and blessed her.
Did anyone else have déjà vu? For a second, that D.C. street looked a lot like the hills of Galilee.
It turns out that the little girl is named Sophie Cruz. She is a U.S. citizen born to parents who are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. She came all the way from California with an immigrant rights group. According to Slate.com, her letter to the pope (which she wrote on her own) said the following:
“Pope Francis, I want to tell you that my heart is very sad, because I’m scared that one day ICE is going to deport my parents. I have a right to live with my parents. I have a right to be happy. My dad works very hard in a factory galvanizing metals. Immigrants like my dad feed this country. They therefore deserve to live with dignity, they deserve to be respected, they deserve immigration reform, because it would be beneficial to my country, and because they have earned it working very hard, picking oranges, onions, watermelons, spinach, lettuce, and many other vegetables. Don’t forget about us the children, or about those who suffer because they’re not with their parents because of war, because of violence, because of hunger.”
If only the United States can learn from Pope Francis—and from Jesus!—what it means to welcome children.
Chase Peeples is pastor of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ along with a bunch of other things including a father, a husband and a friend.