There is such a buzz in New York City, the East Coast, and perhaps the whole of America, surrounding the arrival of Pope Francis. I wouldn’t say that I’m a terribly religious person, but I come from a Colombian-Italian family (can’t get much more Catholic than that!) and I retain a certain peace and comfort in some of the traditions I grew up with. I still accompany my elderly aunt to church every Sunday, I “light candles” for my deceased loved ones, I “say grace” on occasion before meals, and I pray for guidance when I need it. And I can say that I have never been prouder to be a Catholic under the reign of Pope Francis, and especially during this papal visit. Watching the coverage of this event has been equal parts exciting, comforting, and inspirational. He is a welcome respite amidst the noise of mudslinging political debates and nonsensical agendas. He has been the voice of reason and an advocate for the common good and of “doing the right thing.” He’s discussed climate change, war, and the basic rights and freedoms of our people. His message is clear and simple—remember where you came from, be tolerant, and above all, be kind.
Hearing Pope Francis close with “God bless America” after each of his speeches has brought me to tears—even though it’s something we’ve grown up hearing, it has become a trite statement. But his delivery and the sincerity of his words is a great reassurance against the fear and uncertainty of our future, and a gentle reminder of the greatness of this country and the hope that it was built upon. But it’s not just his words that have resonated with me and so many, it’s watching him stop and interact with people on the street, especially children and the sick. It’s hearing him turn down dinner with politicians in favor of dining with the homeless. It’s listening to him say what’s right in favor of what’s popular.
I’ve heard people say many times over these past few days, “I am not a religious person but I love this pope.” And at the end of the day it’s because this really has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with being a decent and just human being. As my aunt always says, the best religion is simply to be a good person.