PopeFrancis- 3.19.13a




Se ve! Se siente! El Papa esta presente!

Se ve! Se siente! El Papa esta presente!

The best kept secret in McAllen was revealed when Pope Francis I was seen, felt and was indeed, present in the heart of downtown McAllen at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the early morning hours of Monday, August 31, 2015.

Although he was “present” only virtually- via satellite feed – those of us blessed to be sitting, standing, chanting, laughing, blushing, and crying in the church pews that morning will always remember the day we interacted with Pope Francis. For most of us, that will be the closest we will ever get to His Holiness but the closeness we felt and the lessons he imparted to us during that Monday morning will inspire us for the rest of our lives.

ABC News’ “20/20” airs tonight, Friday, September 4, 2015, a segment that the network calls “Pope Francis & The People.” The segment was recorded Monday morning with audiences in Chicago, Los Angeles, and McAllen connected via the Holy Spirit and simultaneous satellite feed with Rome, with Pope Francis himself, “The People’s Pope.”

We were able to see the Pope live on one large screen, situated on the altar in the middle of the church, while he sat with ABC News anchor David Muir in the Vatican. On another screen, we saw the live audience feed.

As two audience members in each city addressed him, the camera feed  from the large screen was focused on Pope Francis’ familiar face. We could see his gentleness as he listened and reacted to his awestruck flock in the three cities share their heart -wrenching life stories of tragedy, suffering, and faith testimony.

In Chicago, a girl shares of being bullied in school and losing her father at a young age. In Los Angeles, a teenager recounts the years he has spent living and sleeping on the streets or wherever he could. In McAllen, a young man tells the Holy Father of a lost childhood, about growing up too fast in an America that views him as “illegal” even though he has known only South Texas for fifteen of his nineteen years.

The Pope’s face and eyes were at first intently focused on hearing and then fully listening to each person. Each one emptied their heart to him as if pouring it out to Jesus himself. Pope Francis, in turn, taught us that love can bridge even the distance of geography to those in need. Pope Francis’ absorbed gaze and his immediate wholesome response personified the adage that “one hears with their ears but listens with their heart.”

The Bishop of Rome was a loving grandfather to those six young immigrants whose stories he received. He answered their outpouring with love, with a response in Spanish that the mostly Spanish speaking audience in McAllen understood. The response resulted from fully listening to the person; his was not a standard rejoinder to generic or universal situations. It was a deeply thoughtful response from a pastor, from a shepherd who loves and cares for each member of his flock.

At each of the three locations, an inner city parochial school, a homeless shelter, and an immigrant care center, those selected to share their story of life in the America unknown in the halls of power and influence conveyed to him their struggles, their sacrifices, their tragedies, and their perseverance. Pope Francis, the Time Magazine Man of the Year, in turn, applauded their courage. His message to them and to all of us was to live a life of courage. He gently implored them and all of us to be brave enough to live a life giving testimony to the power of God in our lives and to the empowering force of love of family and for our neighbor. Because, he suggested, love endures.

As stirring as his hearty responses were to the questions, I will mostly remember the almost palpable joy that we in the audience could see and feel in his majestic and delightful face. What a divine grace Pope Francis has been granted not only to light up a room but to open hearts and melt away earthly concerns with his enchanting and delightful smile. His spontaneous and playful repartee with the audiences in three cities and those chosen to speak with him, such as asking the shocked Chicago school girl to please sing him a song and summoning an even more shy Sister Norma Pimentel  to the front of the church so he could tell her in front of the entire world: “I love you”, revealed a man not only comfortable in his own skin but jubilant in God. We, in the audience, shed tears of joy from seeing this holy man happily smile and interact with us – with love.

McAllen was selected presumably because of the extraordinary humanitarian effort of Catholic Relief Services of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc, Sister Norma and the hardworking sisters in her religious order, the Missionaries of Jesus, the City of McAllen, The Food Bank of the RGV, the Salvation Army, and countless volunteers and organizations representing an eclectic group of caring and loving souls from throughout the community and our nation who saw people, refugees, who needed a hand, a drink of water, a bit to eat and a smile. These vulnerable people, who had endured so much to flee hardship and violence, needed a touch of our community’s, our nation’s humanity. Thanks to each of you volunteers for having the joy, the courage, and listening, loving heart to help those in need.

To these fine people, we say: may we all be blessed with the courage to care and listen as you have in 2015 on the Texas-Mexico border- in God’s country.

To the People’s Pope, we say “se vio, se sintio, y siempre  estaras presente in nuestros corazones.”  We saw. We felt. But you will always be present in our hearts.

An edited version of this column was published in The Monitor.


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