I recently came across a beautiful story about the papal visit from the San Francisco Chronicle. The piece is a stark reminder of power of unconditional love and the message of mercy. Nothing is more compelling–nothing is more true–than the unconditional love of the Father. The story picks up with the pope meeting AIDS patients during a visit to a local church:
He walked up slowly up the aisle, blessing, touching and reaching out to the congregation.
The pontiff held and kissed a 4-year-old child who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, and blessed and talked to many others who suffer from the fatal disease.
“God loves you all, without distinction, without limit,” he said. “He loves those of you who are sick, those who are suffering from AIDS and AIDS-Related Complex. … He loves all with an unconditional and everlasting love.”
It was the third time in a week that the pope had spoken of AIDS. Earlier, he had said that homosexuals were “in the heart of the church” that people should have compassion for AIDS patients, and that the church welcomed homosexuals as long as they practiced chastity.
Yesterday, the pope laid his hands on David Glassberg, who went to the welcoming ceremony at the basilica with Tristano Palermino, his lover.
“I was going to tell the pope my lover and I had AIDS,” Glassberg said later, “But his aura, his power when he touched us was so overwhelming I was speechless.”
Now, the pope in this story could very easily be Francis. But it’s not. The story was written in 1987, during Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco. (A visit during which John Paul prayed at the tomb of Fr. Junipero Serra, whom Pope Francis will canonize on Wednesday.) I was deeply struck by the similarity, almost familiarity, between the moving gestures of John Paul II and the kind of gestures we see Francis making today.
Which got me thinking.
You may hear talk this week about how different Pope Francis is from his predecessors, as if Francis was the first pope to speak of mercy or embrace the marginalized. By and large, this is nonsense, and a discredit to both Francis and his predecessors. The real reason that the beautiful witness of Popes Francis and John Paul II are so strikingly familiar is that there is, in fact, a family resemblance: here are brothers in Christ sharing with the world the love and mercy of the one and same Father.
Today, Peter has come among us. It is our privilege to welcome him. Our shepherd is here to encourage us and to show us how to love one another the better, just as his predecessors did. Their example changed hearts. Does ours? After all, we may not be popes, but we are sons and daughters of the same Father. How well do we show His love and mercy? Do we, through the way we live our lives, bear the family resemblance?