Father Bergoglio is expected at the other side of Buenos Aires for a day of recollection. He is in a hurry.
He still has to catch the train.He leaves his office, passes along the corridor, and enters the chapel. He pauses before the Blessed Sacrament. He prays in silence, entrusting to the Lord the talk he is going to give. He then immediately rushes out toward the exit.If he hurries, maybe he’ll catch the train and be on time. But before he can pass through the door, he hears his name being called. It is a young man. He looks unstable. Perhaps he is under the influence of mind-altering drugs.
The young man asks Father Bergoglio to hear his confession. “There is a priest about to come. Go to confession to him because I have some other things to do,” Father Bergoglio replies.
Later, he was sorry for not being more attentive to the young man. In his interview with Francesca Ambrogetti, Pope Francis reflects regretfully on what he said to the young man: “I, a witness to the Gospel, spoke in this way.”
He explains that in that moment, as he was about to go out, four thoughts passed through his mind in a matter of seconds.
First: “I must hurry, they are waiting for me.”
Second: “The other priest will not arrive all that quickly.”
Third: “The boy is under the influence of drugs; he will not even realize how long he was waiting.”
Fourth: “But what am I doing?”
Once outside, under the hot Argentine afternoon sun, Bergoglio stops himself. He raises his eyes to heaven, lowers them again, and turns back and walks slowly toward the young man. He says, “The father [priest] will be late. I will hear your confession.”
A Confession from Future Pope Francis
It will be a confession that will take all the time that is necessary. Then the future pope calmly accompanies the young man to the statue of Our Lady where he entrusts him to her care. Afterward, only after this, he will go to the station in the certainty that he has missed the train.
He will have to wait for another one. But God is the Lord of all. To his great surprise, Father Bergoglio discovers that the train is late and that he does not have to wait for another one. That evening, on his way home, he decides to stop off at his confessor’s.
He absolutely needs to ask forgiveness from God for what he has done, otherwise, he says, “Tomorrow I will not even be able to celebrate Mass.”
But what is he to confess? The business with the young man? Bergoglio has questioned his own behavior, has understood his error, and corrected it.
Francesca Ambrogetti explains to me: “Look, those few minutes or perhaps seconds in which he left that young man alone needed to be placed into the hands of God. The sense of shame he experienced for those few moments, the sense of sin he felt, were truly strong.”
This is a crucial episode in the life of the Argentine pope. It enabled him to understand that it is not efficiency but patience that is the virtue of a person of faith. It does not matter how many things you do; it is the love you bring to them that makes the difference.
This is a lesson valid for the whole of his life. It is a lesson that Pope Francis learned not as a boy, nor in the seminary. He wasn’t even starting out in his ministry. At the time he was already a bishop.
The need to try to hear the voice of God, to listen to him at every moment of the day, was what the future pope learned from that experience.
Image: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis, washes the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users during Holy Thursday Mass at a church in a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2008. (CNS photo/Enrique Garcia Medina, Reuters)
B is for Baptisms
There once was a widow, a very humble woman who was the mother of seven children from two different men. She was on her own and made her living as a cleaner. She had given up her dreams a long time ago.
The last fragment of a wish that remained with her was to see her children baptized.
But what can she do? There are seven of them. Where will she find seven sets of godparents? And what will it cost, between feasts and invited guests? And then there is her work. How can she lose all that time, when she works every waking moment to provide what her family needs?
The woman has learned never to stop, to accept all the requests she receives. But year after year the children become bigger and her dream becomes smaller. One day she meets Archbishop Bergoglio.
“Father, I am in mortal sin. I have seven children and I have never had them baptized,” she says. The future pope smiles at her. “Don’t worry,” he says. They make an appointment, and a few days later the woman is in the curia. As soon as he hears what the situation is, Bergoglio removes the obstacles (or false obstacles).
“Let’s do all the baptisms with [the same] two godparents; it’s easier. And for the refreshments, there’ll be cola and sandwiches after the ceremony.”
The Great Day Arrives
It is a day of catechesis that Bergoglio himself defines as “small.” All of the children are baptized. What an unforgettable day for that mother! “Father, I can’t believe it. You make me feel important,” says the widow.
Bergoglio replies, “But, what have I got to do with it? It is Jesus who makes you important.” For Bergoglio, baptizing children is a major priority, a necessity.
“We must do everything we can to make baptisms possible,” he tells the priests, some of whom had a rigid mentality and thought it was not a good thing to baptize the children of couples not married in church. “Is it the children’s fault, if their parents are not married in church?” the future pope used to ask with a raised voice. Certainly not!
He knew well that more than a few couples, after the baptism and after making friends with the parish priest and coming to know the catechists, have asked to be married in church. He understood that there is no pastoral work if we don’t establish genuine relationships with people.
And we should never underestimate the power of God. In the sacrament of baptism, with the baptism of the children of a parent or parents, God enters joyfully into the daily experience of an entire family.