Pope Francis' living, tangible, welcoming modeling of Christ

Jennifer Manning

Jesus “is not a professor, a teacher, a mystic who is far from the people and speaks from the professor’s chair, Pope Francis explained in his Sept. 10, 2014 homily.

“No!,” the Holy Father emphasized. Jesus, he:

is in the midst of the people, He lets them touch Him, He lets them ask of Him. That’s Jesus: close to the people. And this nearness is not something new for Him. He emphasizes it in His way of acting, but it is something that comes out of God’s first choice of His people. God says to His people, ‘Consider: What people has a God as close as I am to you?’ God’s closeness to His people is the closeness of Jesus amid the crowds.

(Translation thanks to Vatican Radio.)

At Mass he preached about it and then he showed us.

Later that same morning, Pope Francis greeted Salvatore D’argento, a 42-year old Italian.  D’argento has been paralyzed from the neck down since age 24 due to a Judo accident. He wanted to meet Pope Francis and this outing was only his second in the years since the accident.
Pope Francis walked right over to D’argento, gently placed his hand on his forehead, and spoke quietly with him for a few moments. Then the Holy Father softly kissed D’argento’s forehead before greeting the rest of the faithful gathered for the papal audience. 

Catholic News Agency captured the beautiful meeting in a short video clip that you can see here

In a hectic and fragmented culture not known for follow-through, it is so counter-culturally refreshing to see someone act on their words—particularly when those words are inspired by the Gospel.

This nearness, this closeness to the people is a hallmark of Pope Francis’ papacy—he has met with young people in juvenile detention centers, he has prayed with survivors of sexual abuse, he has reached out to the family of murdered American journalist James Foley.  He gets out of his popemobile and walks around among the people who line paths to greet him on his apostolic journeys. He lives the teachings of Christ in a concrete way and it is good that he does, because we so desperately need that kind of living example. It’s practical. It’s right here, right now. He brings the Gospel to life in a very real, tangible way. And this is what again and again Pope Francis captures the attention of the world with: Encountering people, embracing people, emulating Christ.

Being close to people is hard. When we allow ourselves to draw near to those who are hurting or suffering, we open ourselves to feeling their pain. We are much more comfortable approaching people from a distance, aren’t we? We can read about the horrific violence against entire groups of people in the Middle East, decide that it is too heartbreaking or depressing, and we can distance ourselves from it. We can change the channel on the news, skip that article in the paper. We can pretend like it doesn’t exist.

Christ calls us out of ourselves and calls us to be close to those who are suffering. We may not be physically close to the persecuted peoples in the Middle East – and we’re certainly not all called to travel there as Foley’s vocation brought him – but we can and we must hold them close to our hearts in prayer each moment. We must pray for our world leaders – pray for their wisdom and prudence and justice.  Each time we draw near to those who are suffering, we are transformed by the radical, self-giving of Christ into the people we are called to be.

Topics: Current Events , Faith , Mercy , Pope Francis

Jennifer Manning is a Catholic schoolteacher in Massachusetts and a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

View all articles by Jennifer Manning

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