With the People
Pope Francis frequently strays. He ought to be commended for his straying. While admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to popes, Jorge Mario Bergoglio a.k.a. Pope Francis, does not feel constrained in any way to stick to the text, both literally as well as figuratively. Refreshingly different than his predecessors, Pope Francis injects more than a modicum of “down to earth” and “off the cuff” qualities. And that’s pretty spectacular for the head of the Catholic Church, who is believed to possess an express lane to heaven!
Less than a week ago, Pope Francis left his private quarters and unannounced, walked into the Vatican cafeteria, where he got into line with his tray of food. Understandably, he was fully prepared to pay for his own lunch. The Pope then proceeded to take a seat among Vatican employees, where he joined them for lunch and conversation. As they would say in New York City of yesteryear, “he’s a regular guy.” Speaking of private quarters, Pope Francis broke with protocol and declined the papal apartments (a ten room residence in Domus Sanctae Marthae) for much smaller and more basic living arrangements.
When it comes to pomp and circumstance, Pope Francis is much more given over to circumstance. That is to say, that circumstance plays much more of a pivotal role in the life of Pope Francis, than does pomp. During the most recent Palm Sunday Mass, an event seen by Catholics in terms of importance not all that different than Kol Nidrei is seen by Jews, Pope Francis did not hesitate to deviate from the prepared text and speak off the cuff, nor did the Pope think twice before hopping off the Popemobile, before it came to a complete stop, to oblige some of the younger generation who were in attendance, as he gladly posed with them for “selfies”. Why, Pope Francis even accepted a thermos of tea, replete with dangling cup from someone in the crowd, when it became apparent from his speaking, that his throat was parched.
As admirable as all this spontaneity on the part of the Pope may be, there is at times a downside to it as well. Close to two months ago, Pope Francis visited Israel. Despite the fact that the visit was well scripted from the time he landed until the time he boarded his Alitalia flight home, the kind hearted Pope simply couldn’t say no to a last minute request from both the Israelis as well as the Palestinians. Being the gutteh neshomeh (good soul) he is, the Pope received much scorn from the Jewish world as he fulfilled the request of the Palestinians and made a stop and offered a prayer at the infamous, as well as highly contentious, security barrier erected between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Poor political judgment call aside, it seems to me that the typical Parish Priest, the local minster, the Imams among us as well as my fellow pulpit Rabbis would do well to learn from Pope Francis, a role model who speaks neither at the people nor to the people, but with the people.