.- “I was in Rome to meet the Pope, but it was the Pope who came out to meet me.” This is how Fr. Fabian Baez explained his impromptu Jan. 8 ride in the popemobile with Pope Francis.
Pope Francis spotted the Argentine priest in the crowd at the General Audience that day, and welcomed him onto the popemobile. Fr. Baez spoke with CNA Jan. 16 about the experience.
“I didn’t have a ticket for the audience, but I felt like seeing the audience (from afar). So I arrived to St. Peter's Square looking forward to at least taking some pictures of the Pope and the popemobile.”
“Since I didn’t have a ticket, I could not get into the audience … but I was looking forward to at least taking some pictures of the Pope and the popemobile.”
“I was outside the last barrier when the popemobile drove by and I was able to take a picture of the Holy Father, and he recognized me and asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ I answered, 'Well, I came to see you.'”
“The pope mobile kept going and the second time around, something unusual happened. The popemobile stopped, and he invited me to climb over the barrier. I thought he just wanted to greet me, so imagine my joy. I gave him a hug, and he invited me into the popemobile!”
Fr. Baez recounted that while riding, “he asked me every once in a while, ‘How are you?’ Afterwards, he even took the trouble to see that they gave me a seat with the ambassadors.”
At the end of the ride, a few minutes before imparting his catechesis, Pope Francis told him, “If you are in a hurry don’t worry about it, but if you stay until the end, we can talk for ten minutes.”
“So I stayed, of course. I didn't have absolutely anything else to do except hoping to see the Pope.”
“After greeting the sick one by one as he always does, with tenderness and kindness … I was able to chat with him for ten minutes outside the entrance to his home at St. Martha’s.”
Fr. Baez called the meeting “a sign … we Christians do not believe in coincidences, coincidences are, as a friend of mine says, 'God-incidences'.” “God in his infinite mercy had that invitation for me, but not just for me. I think it's an invitation to all priests. The Pope receives us, he invites to be with him and to entrust to him and to the Church our anxieties, sorrows, problems; to feel that we are sons of the Church.”
He said that while he did not have a close friendship with Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, he had been ordained a priest by him, and the Pope remembered his face. This attentiveness to each person, so exemplified by Pope Francis, is something that “hopefully all priests can have the grace” to imitate, he reflected.
Commenting on the change from Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio and Pope Francis, Fr. Baez said he “is the same, and at the same time, he is different. He was like that before, with his closeness, his goodness. But at the same time, he is different because he radiates serenity and peace. Being with the Pope, seeing him, is like an entrance, a window to God, to heaven. His mere presence radiates peace.”
“He just radiates something, so yes, I think he is the same, but evidently there is something different. I perceive something different.”
Fr. Baez said that when he returns to Argentina he will continue working among the people as always, “just as the Pope always tells us.” Beginning in March, he will return to Buenos Aires to work at the Shrine of St. Cajetan in the Liniers neighborhood. The shrine is dear to Pope Francis, as he said Mass there the seventh day of each month, a commemoration of the Aug. 7 feast of the founder of the Theatine order.
The priest concluded, “In the popemobile, what really impacted me was the look of the Pope, how the Pope doesn’t look at a crowd. He looks at the person, which is what happened with me when he recognized me in a crowd and he called me - that’s what I perceived.”
“I was attentive to how he would look at each person, which was like the look of God, who doesn’t see a uniform mass, but rather every person. That was what most impacted me on the popemobile, and I kept that in prayer, the Pope’s look, the affection with which he holds children. It is what one can see in pictures, but to be there, three feet away, was something really moving.”