By: Tom Carani
Pope Francis visited San Paolo della Croce, a parish on the outskirts of Rome. As part of his visit, he heard confessions, ministered to the elderly and the sick, and spent time answering questions from the parish’s youngest members. Our Holy Father has had some remarkable interactions with children of all kinds during his pontificate (here, here, and here), but there was one at San Paolo that struck me deeply. Check it out here if you haven’t seen it:
So as you see, a young boy named Emanuele hesitantly approaches the microphone to share his question with the Holy Father, but the pressure and stage fright of standing in front of the Holy Father shocks him into silence, and he begins to weep. Bitterly. At first, I’m thinking, “Aw, the poor kid is really afraid.” But there’s something deeper in this encounter.
The Pope—in a manner fitting of Francis—beckons the child to himself, and pulls him close to hear his question. And this, friends, is the moment that hit me. The boy’s distress and grief are deep. This is no ordinary Q&A session. And Francis responds in the best way possible. I don’t mean his words, I mean his actions. His embrace of the broken, grieving child. Right here. An intimate moment of shared grief and pain.
The sight broke me. Like, real, adult tears. OK, just one. But still.
To see Emanuele fall into our Holy Father’s embrace and weep and anguish over the loss of his biological father moved me. To hear such a young soul ask an age-old question: “Is my daddy in heaven?” broke the mundaneness of my life and opened my ears and eyes to reality not my own. What boldness and daring! To run to the arms of the Pope and ask such a question. Emanuele wasn’t afraid after all; he was courageous enough to seek the embrace.
And this, friends, is the question I want to pose: Are we courageous enough to seek the embrace of our Father in heaven? So often we stand at a distance, “behind the microphone”, so to speak. We theologize and we philosophize without love, we ask our friends “How are you doing?” but we don’t really care about the answer, we selfishly spend time Netflixing and YouTubing instead of being present to others and encountering them in an embrace. Sometimes we ignore those living in our own homes. We have burning questions, we have heavy burdens of grief and worry, but we hide behind our false pride and resist our Father’s call to come closer to Him.
Enough. We’ve got to stop doing that. We are called to this Divine embrace. The Psalms show us that we can be upset with God, that we can cry out in anguish, and joy, and confusion, and anger. In short, they show us that we can be human before God, because that’s how God created us. And sometimes, humans just need to fall into a loving, supportive embrace and ugly cry. And that’s OK. Because it’s only in the embrace where we are close enough to hear the words whispered just for us, “I love you, and you are mine. And I am always with you.”