There are many names or titles which we ascribe to Pope Francis.
The ﬁrst is “pope.” It comes from “papa,” and is a reminder that in his role as chief shepherd of the Church, Pope Francis is like a tender-hearted father to us. We also call Pope Francis the Holy Father for the same reason, although, my sense is that many of us love to see him more as a loving grandpa.
We also call Pope Francis the Vicar of Christ and Successor to St. Peter. In truth, Pope Francis is the loving face of Christ for so many, and he certainly follows in the footsteps of St. Peter as he seeks to lead the Apostles of our day as he shepherds the universal Church.
There is, however, one title that we hear applied to Pope Francis that is perhaps something of a mystery to many. We call him Pontiff . It’s a curious word, the meaning of which may not be readily apparent. It comes from the Latin word pontifex, which means “a bridge builder.” During the course of his visit, I believe we saw Pope Francis the Pontiff – the bridge-builder – hard at work.
Think first of the images that so many of us saw as he made his way either on foot or by vehicle through throngs of people gathered to hear and see him. Recall who he sought out – and who sought him out. More often than not, the most memorable images were of Pope Francis reaching out to bless children, to comfort those who were visibly in poor health or who suffered from some form of physical disability. Those images of Pope Francis tenderly embracing so many who might be so easily marginalized in everyday society are images of Pope Francis the bridge-builder. As Pope Francis did, so we are all called to do.
In several of his addresses, Pope Francis spoke of the fragility of the environment in light of his recent encyclical, Laudato Si. He reminded us that we should see the environment as a gift which must be protected and safeguarded. In so doing, Pope Francis was knocking down walls of short-sightedness and building a bridge that will lead all to a future in which all can enjoy the beauty and riches of the world which God has created for us.
In his address to Congress, Pope Francis spoke of the burgeoning number of immigrants, migrants and refugees in our world, saying, “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Pope Francis was knocking down walls of suspicion and mistrust, seeking instead to build a bridge by which all might know lives marked by freedom, dignity and peace.
Pope Francis certainly seems to take his role as Pontiff quite seriously. In so doing, he reminds us that we are all called to be part of the construction crew. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.