By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
We’ve witnessed this scene before…the frenzied throngs of mostly young people greeting the arrival of the Beatles to the United States in 1964. The multitudes who lined the streets of New York City to get a glimpse of Charles Lindberg in 1927 or John Glenn in 1962, when they came to town following their historic trips, one across the Atlantic in a tiny airplane and one after orbiting the Earth in a capsule. We cheered the victorious soldiers such as General Douglas MacArthur or sports figures being celebrated for great achievements. Those public icons captured the passion and imagination of a nation. They were superstars of the highest order whose feats became legendary. Now comes Pope Francis with the same impassioned welcome…but why?
Pope Francis comes from humble beginnings in a small village in Argentina. Had he attempted to migrate to the United States as a young man, Donald Trump and others might have looked askance at yet another Latino trying to cross the border and somehow subvert America.
So what is it about this Pope that makes men, women and children crave a fleeting view and literally swoon at his sight? And to be clear, this magnetism is not only found amongst the Catholic faithful, it is interdenominational and it is a phenomenon. Pope Francis arrived in the United States last week to a tumultuous welcome by the great and the ordinary, by the nation’s highest leaders and by the homeless. By Catholics, Protestants, Jews and yes Muslims.
Pope Francis has no armies at his command. He does not engage in any great athletic contest or spectacle. He does not reach millions through recordings of songs or movie screen appearances. He is a simple man of faith, and compassion. He brings with him only a message of common humanity, love for all, and forgiveness. He espouses the belief that the core of human values is not so much the accumulation of material things, but rather to help one and other live purposeful, merciful and dignified lives. That has irked some.
In a time and an age when politicians are appealing to fears, he appeals to hope. With much of the world aflame with the swelter of intolerance, his is a message of reconciliation. While so many multinational corporations are reaping riches by plundering the world’s natural resources and threatening the viability of the environment, he speaks of preserving our earth and climate for future generations. By articulating these ideas he has offended some of the captains of industry and those who recoil at anyone telling Americans what their priorities ought to be. He speaks truth to power, but does so with grace and humility.
And as he traveled across America millions of people have responded to him as few before. His message resonates. And it is one of hope and healing and the endless possibilities of the good in the human spirit.
In the New Testament the historical figure Jesus is said to have asked his disciples, “Who do YOU say I am?” So what is it that we see in Pope Francis? And who do we say HE is? I believe that we see the better angels of our nature in this man. I believe that we see the light of love and not the darkness of hate. I believe that we see a man living out his faith and not merely preaching it. I believe that people see the modern day exemplar of the teachings espoused by the son of a Jewish carpenter some 2,000 years ago.