“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)
April 5, 2015
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“One day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces will stick back together.” While the author of this adage remains unknown, its lived reality seems enfleshed in the example of Pope Francis as he regularly veers off course to be with those struggling on the margins.
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Two months ago, AMERICA magazine, reporting on his trip to the Philippines, detailed the healing ministry of Pope Francis in an article entitled “The Pope in the Poncho.” I share an excerpt with you:
“Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Philippines provided many memorable moments, but one in particular stands out: Francis celebrating open-air Mass on a stormy, wet and windy day at Tacloban airport, wearing a yellow plastic poncho over his vestments.
“His advisors, both local and Roman, suggested he celebrate Mass in the cathedral at Palo, as nobody celebrates open-air Mass here in such inclement conditions. He rejected the idea. The crowd was vast; the church could accommodate only a few hundred. He had come to be with them, not to be protected from the weather.
“His aides wanted to provide him with a large umbrella or a good raincoat; he dismissed their proposal, saying he wanted to wear a yellow poncho exactly like those being worn by the 500,000 faithful waiting for Mass and lining the route from the airport to that site. He had come to be with them, to share their sufferings and accompany them for some hours.
“By the time his plane touched down at Tacloban airport after a 75-minute bumpy flight from Manila, the tropical storm was in full swing, bringing rain and 60-mile-an-hour winds. The government had provided one million yellow plastic ponchos for the occasion, but had outlawed the use of umbrellas to avoid injury to people as the wind could, in seconds, turn them into lethal flying objects.
“Survivors [said] Francis brought consolation and hope to these victims of the worst typhoon in history, which hit their island on November 8, 2013, causing some 10,000 deaths and making four million people homeless.
“They gave a mighty roar of intense delight as he stepped off the plane at the windy, rain-swept airport. They jumped and danced for joy as he drove among them and reached out to touch or bless them. His presence clearly meant the world to them. Many had lost family members, friends or neighbors; some all three. Francis knew this. He sensed their pain. The look on his face during Mass conveyed his great desire to embrace and console each one. His words said this too.
“He had prepared a homily, but on seeing the hundreds of thousands of survivors huddled before him under the rain in yellow plastic ponchos like his, he discarded his prepared text and spoke powerfully and with emotion, from his heart to theirs, with words of faith and hope that brought many to tears. Journalists wept too.
“‘So many of you have lost everything,’ [he said]. ‘I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart.’ He prayed with them for their loved ones. A long silence followed. Tears flowed freely. Later they sang and received Communion.
“He drove among them after Mass, wearing the yellow plastic poncho that became the iconic image of his visit to the Philippines. Afterward he had lunch with 30 survivors who had lost loved ones.
“The previous day he had been advised against travelling because tropical storm Amang was brewing, but he refused to cancel the visit. By the end of Mass, however, the storm had become a Category 2 typhoon. He had little choice but to depart four hours earlier than planned. Still, he had achieved his goal: to come and console them.” (AMERICA, February 9, 2015)
“One day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces will stick back together.” Surely, this is the task Pope Francis has set for himself as, veering from established Vatican protocol, he leaves well-traveled roads to wade into dark pools of human brokenness, smiles, hugs and kisses offered so freely, spontaneously.
On this Easter morning, the gospel passage we hear proclaims that death no longer has the last word. As St. John writes, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)
Indeed, it’s not only death that is a mirage, but every other seeming wall that separates and divides. Through the example of his life and death, Jesus tumbled every barrier that attempts to separate humankind from its creator. Even more did he tumble barriers that divided people one from another on this earth.
On this Easter morning, we profess our faith in the Risen Christ, the One who hugs us so tightly that all of our broken pieces will stick back together. And, like Pope Francis, we commit ourselves anew to a holy task, leaving familiar and comfortable roadways to search out—even to hug and kiss—those on more forsaken paths.