After his appearance on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis returned to the Domus Sancta Maria where we cardinals had all resided during the conclave (By the way, his limousine, with proper security escort, stood ready to chauffeur him back to the Domus, but, he got on the bus and rode back with all of us!).
There we had, as you might imagine, a rather festive supper. At its conclusion, a senior cardinal toasted the new Holy Father. Pope Francis stood to reply. His toast to the cardinals who had just elected him as Successor of St. Peter? “May God forgive you!”
This of course brought the house down. He then told us what he planned to do the following day, and ended by saying, “And sometime tomorrow I’ll have to stop by the Casa del Clero (a pensión for priests visiting Rome where he had been staying before the conclave) to pick up my baggage and pay my bill!
A simple observation, but it made me think: this man, seventy-six years old, will now have to move from his beloved Argentina to Rome.
Pope Francis is moving… and the Church herself is always on the move. That’s because the Church is missionary! In His parting words to His disciples, Jesus told them to “Go out to all the world!”
A man named Patrick once did that. You know the story: born probably in England (although the Italians claim he came from here in Italy!), he was kidnapped as a boy and sold into servitude in Ireland. There he came to know and love the people of that verdant, tiny island, as rough and contentious as they were, and longed to teach them the faith he had learned as a child. Even when he escaped and returned home, he could not get Ireland out of his mind, and, so, later went on the move as a bishop back to the damp turf that now claims him as patron. There, he brought the Name, message, and invitation of Jesus and His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. St. Patrick was a missionary.
When, during the years 1845-1851, the blight and famine hit Ireland — — literally “like a plague,” resulting in the starvation of approximately two million or more people, what historians call “the greatest disaster in peace time human history” — — the people of Ireland were “on the move” in a scattering, a diaspora often compared to that of Jews from Israel after the Roman onslaught of 70 AD.
These Irish on the move, these emaciated sons and daughters of St. Patrick, came by the hundreds of thousands to the United States, with nothing of earthly value but the clothes on their back, and fond, yet tearful, memories of the people and the land they cherished, but with something of heavenly value, a “pearl of great price” in their Catholic faith. While the woman called the Statue of Liberty was not yet there in the harbor to welcome them to America, another woman was, one called Holy Mother Church. And we are proud and grateful heirs to those Irish on the move.
In a way, those Irish were missionaries, weren’t they? In humble, simple ways, they built the Church here in America, and passed the faith brought to them by Patrick on to their children.
I’m sure glad Patrick went to Ireland; I’m glad one Patrick Dolan left County Cavan, starving, in 1851; I’m glad he passed on his Catholic faith to his son, Patrick, who then passed it on to Timothy Patrick, then he to William Timothy, who passed it on to Robert Matthew, who passed it on to one Timothy Michael Dolan, who now is proud to call St. Patrick’s his cathedral, and who very much misses all of you as we’ll observe the feast day Sunday, of the one who went on the move and brought the faith to Ireland.
So, Pope Francis is in great company as he moves from Argentina to Rome. That’s just how it is in the Church.
Viva il Papa Francesco!
Viva St. Patrick!