The Heart of a Father
In just a few weeks, Pope Francis will again be heading west. This time he will visit Cuba and then the United States. A Pope is often in the media and on the world stage. Francis, because of his personality and his message of mercy, is even more a focus. Some will remember Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba, which was largely lost on the American public due to the media’s distraction by the sexual activities of the then-President of the United States.
The Pope is always an enigma. His first role is Bishop of Rome, the leader and servant of the people of the ancient city. In that chair, he is a successor of St. Peter, to whom Jesus entrusted the leadership of the Church (Matthew 16:18). The Bishop of Rome “presides over the entire assembly of charity” as the servant of the servants of God. As presiding bishop, he is entrusted with continuing the line of authority from Peter and the line of succession from the Apostles down to our present day.
Historically, the papacy has accumulated other roles, including a membership in the family of nations. As such, the Pope is also a head of state. This is certainly an additional burden for the man who is called to bring Christ to the world. It is also a tool that gives entree to the Church in resolving national disputes, mediating international conflicts and serving the cause of peace. The Holy Father and his diplomatic corps are working constantly not only to protect Christians and insure the safety of Catholics across the globe, but to bring peace and justice where there is discord and war.
And so, Pope Francis comes to Cuba. His efforts to reconcile Cuba to the family of nations and to open its doors are rooted primarily in his – that is to say, the Church’s – concern for the good of the human person. Some in our country fear that this rewards the Castros, who should be justifiably punished. Others see economic benefits – and Cuban cigars – flowing into the United States. The Holy Father looks at Cuba and sees hundreds of thousands of suffering people living in poverty with inadequate nourishment, a lack of dignified labor, just recompense for their work and freedom to worship. Some find his visit to the island 90 miles from Florida offensive or at best ill-advised.
Pope Francis, however, goes with the heart of a father to bring healing and deliverance to that impoverished nation’s people. His concern is to help, in whatever measure he is able, the suffering human beings that God created, that Jesus redeemed and for whom the Pope is called to be servant and healer.