The Rev. James Martin sat down with NewsWorks Tonight producer Kimberly Haas for this commentary.
The best thing, to my mind, about the visit of Pope Francis to the United States was simple: We got to meet him and he got to meet us. Remember, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit pope, had never even been to the United States before his papal visit last September.
There were even rumors that he wasn’t all that fond of Americans, perhaps not a surprising attitude from a Latin American toward a former colonial power. But it was clear from the moment he stepped off the plane in Washington, that he enjoyed us and we enjoyed him.
And that’s no small accomplishment. As the leader of over 1 billion Catholics, the pope is required to make decisions regarding the good of the entire church. And while the U.S. is not the most important country in the church, it’s important that the pope knows something about us.
Funny enough, when he left the States he summed up his reactions to the three cities he visited. On the plane ride back to Rome, he told journalists the following: “In Washington, the welcome was warm but more formal. New York was a bit exuberant, Philadelphia very demonstrative. So, three different kinds of welcome.”
And I thought, that’s pretty good for someone who only spent a few days in each place. So he took our measure.
It was also an important reminder for American Catholics that the pope is not some far-off, unapproachable, semi-mythical figure. He’s our pastor.
More basically, he’s a human being. Some of my friends who waited for hours at Independence Hall to see him, said to me, with wonder, “I can’t believe I just saw the Pope at Fourth and Walnut!”
How will Easter change for me this year? How will the pope’s visit influence my celebration of the most important day of the year?
Well, I have to say, not much.
Now, Pope Francis is a hugely influential figure for me. He encourages me to be more merciful, and to care more for the poor and marginalized. He makes me want to live a more authentic life. Overall, he makes me want to be a better Jesuit, a better priest, a better Catholic, a better Christian, and a better person.
But here’s the thing — he’s not Jesus. And he’d be the first to tell you that. And the meaning of Easter — that Christ is risen, that life triumphs over death, that hope triumphs over despair and that love triumphs over hate — both predates and will outlast Pope Francis.
Of course it’s that very message that made Jorge Mario Bergoglio want to be a Jesuit and a priest to begin with.
So the pope’s visit to the States six months ago electrified American Catholics. What should electrify them more is the timeless and even more electrifying message of Easter: Christ is risen.
Martin is editor-at-large of the magazine America, the National Catholic Review and the author of “Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus.”