Dave Barringer CEO of the SVDP in the United States writes July 2, 2015 of his 20 sec0nds with the Pope…
If you had just 20 seconds to spend with Pope Francis, what would you say?
We all have our daydreams of what we might tell the Pope, the president or another world figure if given the chance. We could bring their attention to a big problem, or better yet a solution we have developed to solve the problem. We could ask for help or a prayer for ourselves or a family member.
Imagine for a moment what it must be like to be the person such as the Pope or President who constantly gets asked for favors, is given free advice and is always the subject of someone’s photo op. How difficult it must be to always be smiling unless making a specific point, and never to be able to drop one’s guard and simply relax.
So last week in Rome, our ever-shifting plans with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) meetings changed again to have a distinct possibility of a private meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis. By “private” I mean an audience just for our group of about 50 rather than the General Audience for thousands each Wednesday morning
Three U.S. Society leaders were present. Joining me were David Fields (LA) and Lorraine Moriarty (SF) and we had discussed weeks earlier that for any visit to the Vatican we would wear special nametags written in Italian and with the international SSVP logo as well as the US SVdP version. We could at least be recognized by Vatican officials. But we didn’t spend time discussing what we would say to the Pope if we had the chance because, well, what’s the chance of that happening?
On Wednesday morning we were ushered into a special reception room in St. John’s Hall behind St. Peter’s. Buddhists were lined up on one side of the room and Catholics on the other side. Then we waited. I didn’t believe it would happen until it actually happened.
At 9a.m. sharp, PCID leader Cardinal Tauran walked into the room with Pope Francis. His Holiness took a seat in a special chair in the middle of the room, and Cardinal Tauran read him a welcome message about our work that week. Pope Francis responded through a translator that our work was important in these times of such world unrest and violence, and that by working across faiths we could help solve so many world and community issues. Then the Pope rose. I though he was going to smile and depart, but instead he began to greet every single delegate in the room!
How did the Society’s three members respond? David Fields gave Pope Francis a book about St. Vincent de Paul written in Italian, and Lorraine Moriarty gave him an umbrella used by her council as a temporary shelter for the homeless along with an explanatory card. Both thanked him for his leadership in focusing help on people in need. I, meanwhile, was on a different mission.
For months now I have been asked by our members to try to have the Pope visit with the Society when he travels in September to the United States. With great help from Bishop Quinn, we have written to Vatican planning officials and to the Bishops in each of the three U.S. cities Pope Francis will visit. All responded with polite but non-committal explanations that it’s always someone else’s decision. Everyone and I mean everyone including non-Catholics, wants a piece of Pope Francis when he visits.
So when my twenty seconds of Papal greeting arrived, my message was simple. “On behalf of our 150,000 members, I pray you will visit the poor with the Society of St, Vincent de Paul when you visit the United States,” I managed to say through our handshake. He smiled and said something in Italian that I believe was a thank you and a blessing. Then boom, he was off to the next delegate.
The entire event of two brief speeches and greetings with everyone in the room took only 12 minutes. (Yes I timed it, I’m weird that way.) While each delegate will have a lifetime memory, who knows what such a man of world issues and the world stage will recall or much less act upon?
I’m hopeful that his assistants heard my request and, on top of a pile with our other pleas for an interaction, maybe our Society will get a call as the visit nears. We should not get our hopes up, however, as the schedule for the Pope’s visit is packed and as I noted above, everyone from U.S. Senators to United Nations delegates to clergy everywhere and beyond wants his time. I’ll be glued to the TV at home, listening for what he has to say about meeting the needs of the world’s most vulnerable. Beyond that, we should all start planning now to respond to those who get inspired by the Pope’s words to put their faith into action.
That’s a column or more for another time soon. For now I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the Society to His Holiness and personally extend an invitation to be with us in September.
What would you have said to him? This could be a great discussion at your next Conference meeting!
Yours in Christ, Dave