The images on the screen of our hotel room TV gave me the idea. There was Pope Francis, out of the popemobile, encountering the crowds along the barricades of a Washington, D.C. street. People got selfies, blessings, and the experience of a lifetime. I told my husband that for Saturday, we needed to leave as early as we could muster, so we could get a spot on the barricade so we too could encounter the pope. I admit I had naive dreams of him getting out of the car and coming to our section. He’d bless my book, there’d be a great picture, and a great story for our hoped for future children about how mom and dad’s bride and groom rosaries were personally blessed by Pope Francis.
Our encounter that day–and the whole weekend for that matter–was very different from the fantasy.
We did get a spot right on the barricade, near the end of the parade route, thanks to a 4:30 am wake-up call and willingness to stand for nearly 12 hours. Here we are, at my thumb. To make a dream come true, it really was the best spot.
But we did not personally encounter the pope. After much confusing information from our very nice State Trooper (one stationed every twelve feet or so), the 2-hour parade after the speech at Independence Hall did not materialize. Rather, it was two hours after the speech that Pope Francis boarded his car and literally whizzed by. More on that experience in a future post on “sight.” It was very cool to see such a respected person, the leader of our faith–one who has inspired such admiration not seen since the likes of Pope (now Saint!) John Paul II, once famously described as the “pope who knows how to pope.” But we were not alone in our slight disappointment that after all that waiting, the experience was a mere split second. In the line for the train home, in line to get through Mass security, nearly everyone we met commented on how fast he seemed to go by. But all were incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
And one phrase in that last sentence is the key: “nearly everyone we met.” The weekend was FULL of encounter–just not us with Pope Francis. I think he met with those who needed his hand, his personal blessing or kind word, and we met other pilgrims. We may think we need a personal encounter with the pope, but God knows better. The people He put in our path that weekend were who we needed to encounter: The two hilarious women from Louisiana who sat next to us on the barricade; the family of six with the kind dad, generous grandma (she gave me a marker!), and joyous kids; the two women from Philadelphia in line with us trying to get into the Mass area; the veritable strangers we maybe exchanged five words with while waiting; and the acquaintances from my time in Boston. When we encountered one another, we learned new things, we shared commonalities and explored differences, or we just left an impression. During the World Meeting of Families, PJ and I heard a lot about making sure our marriage was a witness to the world. But I wondered how to really do that, what that was supposed to look like. And I think it was just what we were doing that weekend: encountering the world together, as husband and wife.
So we didn’t encounter Pope Francis in the way I thought we wanted. Rather, I think we met with the world in the way I think he hopes his flock would: person to person, just as they are, looking with the love and joy of Christ.