Thursday, September 14, 2017

El Papa! El Papa! Colombia hosts Pope Francis

This past Sunday, I had the good fortune to see Pope Francis in the flesh. I’m not Catholic, but I quite like Francisco; he’s far more enlightened than many of the leaders in our government. Also, we must be honest—Pope Francisco is one of the most important leaders on our planet, with a huge amount of influence, if only as a figurehead.

Last week, the Pope spent 5 days in Colombia. For weeks beforehand, we saw posters all over the city with the Pope in his robes taking a step forward. That was the theme of his visit: Let us take the first step. “Demos el primer paso.”

Let's take the first step
The purpose of his visit was clear: to bring a message of forgiveness to Colombia, a country that has recently signed a peace accord with the FARC guerillas, but still remains a nation wounded and divided by 50 years of horrific conflict. For background, you should know that the peace accord was brought to a public vote and the majority voted against signing the peace accord with the FARC; many Colombians believe that it is wrong to help reestablish the guerillas into civic life after all the violence and strife they have caused since the mid-1960’s.

All of the speeches he gave had the same message—forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity are possible. He met with both sides of the conflict—people who had endured violence and those who had caused it.

Video from Al Jazeera about the Pope's visit to Colombia

Colombia being quite a religious country, having the Pope visit was a very big deal. The people of Cartagena were thrilled to have him end his visit here and hold Sunday mass in their city, as well. It was a great honor to host the pontiff, and several of my students were thrilled to have the chance to sing in choirs that performed for him.

On Sunday morning, I waited alongside many Cartageneros to see Mr. Pope pass by in his Papa-mobile. What a drive-by! You’ll see from the video that it was very speedy passing. But it was also impressive how impassioned people were to see him, even for a split second, many of them holding up babies and rosaries to receive the Pope’s holy blessing as he passed.


Afterwards, everyone rushed into the walled city to the place where he would be doing the noon Angelus prayer, but we found that it was accessible only for those with tickets. Luckily, though, the Pope was making some rounds in the walled city so I got to see him a second time, this time right in front of Norbert and my favorite gelato shop. I’m pretty sure that makes the ice cream sacred now, right?


Later that afternoon, I watched the television coverage of the rest of the Pope’s visit to Cartagena from my friend’s hospital room right on the bay. He was taken by helicopter to fly over the harbor and bless the statue of La Virgen del Carmen, and he flew right over us! There were many boats anchored around the statue, trying to get a bit of the Pope’s blessing as he passed overhead.

For the last event of the day, he presided over Sunday mass at an enormous makeshift church that they created in Cartagena’s port. It was funny to see all the Catholic symbols surrounded by massive cargo containers. The crowd in attendance was gigantic and many had been waiting all day for this opportunity to pray with the Pope. I watched his ceremony from the television screen, and I was moved when he asked his fellow people to pray for him, while also praying for their loved ones at our home, Mother Earth. Later on, while watching the TED talk he gave (See below), he ended his talk asking the viewers to think of him with tenderness, and I think that’s a brave and beautiful thing, to request love and blessings and tenderness from the world around you.