The weight of the world

There are myriad sights, sounds and emotions that came from watching Pope Francis visit the good old U.S.A. last week.

It’s very difficult to pick one that stands out from amongst the thousands of Francis moments on his trek from Washington, D.C., to the Big Apple, to the City of Brotherly Love.

Some include the Holy Father speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress for the first time in history, and his straightforward words and the emotions he evoked from some. There was Speaker of the House John Boehner’s emotional reaction when the pontiff stepped out to look over the steps of the Capitol and witnessing a sea of humanity.

There were the visits to the poor at soup kitchens and Catholic Charities; visits with prisoners; the warm embrace and blessings of special-needs children.

There were the smiling faces of the throngs of people who lined the papal motorcade route in each of the three metropolises.

There were the raw emotions of visiting Ground Zero in NYC, and the impact it made on everyone, especially family members who lost loved ones on 9/11.

There was the incredible ovation Pope Francis received at Madison Square Garden, and everywhere he went for that matter.

I could go on and on and still not even scratch the surface of incredible Francis moments of last week.

But there is one image that I will never forget. Ever.

That happened when Pope Francis was boarding Shepherd One at JFK Airport on his way to Philly.

The 78-year-old pope slowly made his way up the steep stairs and stumbled a few times on the way. Clearly, this was a struggle for him, as he carried a briefcase in one hand, held the railing with the other, and his cassock had a mind of its own.

No one went to help him. I don’t know why. I was watching it live with Denise and we sat there in fear for the blessed man’s safety. I wanted to run up to the TV screen and hold him up.

As the scene was unfolding, I immediately thought of Jesus’ grueling walk to Calvary, and how He struggled under the weight of the wood, compounded by the pain of the crown of thorns and the whipping He received beforehand, all while bearing the burden of everyone’s sins on His shoulders.

I know Pope Francis wasn’t headed to Calvary climbing those stairs, but he was indeed on a mission — a mission from God to reach out to His people.

The stairs the pope climbed are not easy for someone half his age, and one has to bear in mind that the pope suffers from sciatica and a bad knee. And he was being buffeted by a strong breeze on the climb.

The nearly-80-year-old pope was in the middle of a non-stop, whirlwind sojourn to bring the Good News to America — a schedule that would tax the most healthy of individuals.

I saw in Pope Francis’ struggles a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Climbing up those stairs, the pope carried the plight of the refugees across the world, the indignities suffered by immigrants everywhere, the loneliness of the elderly, the pain of the disabled, the hunger pangs of the malnourished, the cold and hopelessness of the homeless, the struggles of families trying to make ends meet while raising their children in the faith, the tragic future for so many unborn children who will never see the light of day, and the selfish destruction of earth’s natural resources.

That is what caused good Pope Francis to stumble on the stairs at JFK Airport. And looking back, I was so wrong to think no one was there to help him make it to the top. It was the Father Who supported His faithful servant. It was the Almighty Who assisted the humble man who said yes to God’s request to bring His Word to all nations.

Pope Francis may have stumbled a couple of times, but he didn’t fall. Instead his frailty and weakness showed the world just what it means to be a servant of God.

Despite his pain and fatigue, Pope Francis climbed aboard Shepherd One once again and continued his grueling schedule for two more days in Philadelphia before returning to Rome.

And we shouldn’t get the idea that he went there for some R & R. Pope Francis still has a mission to complete, and a few more stumbles to endure. But rest assured, God will provide rest in His time —  after Francis finishes running the good race. Meanwhile, the least we can do for him is, as he requested so often on American soil, pray for him.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts