The Pope, The Line, and Who’s Telling The Story?

by Ross Decker Sr

I was on a line with other ticket holders waiting to attend Pope Francis’ Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. The line was astonishingly long. We walked 13 city blocks away from the start of the line at from Madison Square Garden itself to get to the back of the line. Then we waited for the line to start moving so we’d be able to retrace our steps along that 13 Block route back to Madison Square Garden.

The line was a happy one. There was no grumbling at all about the wait, a wait which was ultimately two and a half hours from where I joined the line. Everyone was talking about the Holy Father. They loved the news coverage. They thought the reporters were stunned by this Pope. They speculated about where he was along this day’s itinerary. Would he be late? would we be late? Would they start the Mass before we got inside? Oh, and yes, was that a rainbow?

Our Pope had charmed Washington and New york. He charms everyone everywhere. He brings the Gospel story in a fresh way, making that story present and relative to today. He reminds me of when I first heard Bishop Robert Barron say that the Catholic story was a beautiful story. It just hasn’t always had the right people telling it.

The Holy Father took DC by storm, telling Congress,  “Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

A week before, I wasn’t planning on being here. I’d been to Rome and had seen him give the Wednesday Angelus blessing from his apartment window. The following Sunday was the better day, though. We had tickets to the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square and were seated right at the railing. The Holy Father came past us and we were only about three feet from his happily waving hand. So, I reasoned, what could top that?

I didn’t enter the drawing for the Central Park drive through. I reasoned that I may be far back in the crowd, without a good view, I might be uncomfortable, the weather might be poor. My parish had only 16 tickets for the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. They were to be given out in a lottery type drawing. I didn’t enter. I was quite happy to watch the Pope’s visit on television. I was. For awhile.

As the press began to amp up coverage of the impending visit, some desire to see the Holy Father began to stir. I heard a woman tell a reporter that she was hoping to see the procession through Central Park. It was, she said, a “once in a lifetime experience.” That made sense to me. I wanted to go, but it was too late.

So, when my daughter-in-law, Catherine, offered me the two passes she’d gotten to see the Central Park procession, I was delighted. I was going to see the Pope. To sweeten the pie, she’d gotten the handicap access I needed. Now, I had a whole new view of this Papal visit. I was in. I was a participant.

The only thing better now would be tickets to the Papal Mass. But there were none available. I told a few people that I was hoping to get a ticket should one become available. But none did. Then, after mass on Sunday morning, I was getting into my car. I saw someone I knew driving down the street and we waved to each other. He stopped for the traffic light and then, backed up and lowered his window to chat. We talked about the Papal visit and how energized we all were, how hectic the Holy Father’s schedule would be. As an afterthought he asked. “are you going to the Mass?” No, I said, I didn’t have a ticket. “How many do you need,” he asked. “I have extras.”

The line began to move quickly as we neared the entrance. There was NYPD security on top of the marquee. Police were assuring us that, as long as we had a ticket we’d get in. The line divided to those with and those without bags. I had no bag and slid off to the line on the right. There was one person in front of me. After a quick scan with the wand, I was inside.

I’d missed some of the performances. I got to my seat as Gloria Estefan was introducing Jennifer Hudson. Then came Harry Connick. There was time to buy souvenirs and get back to my seat a minute before His Holiness entered. I was caught up in the excitement. The Pope was in my city and I was seeing him.

“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets,” he preached, “that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”

Capping his whirlwind visit was the trip to Philadelphia where he addressed the sexual abuse scandal.“God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and all responsible will be held accountable. Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy – humbly, we owe each of them our gratitude for their great value as they have had to suffer this terrible abuse sexual abuse of minors.”

And then, it was over. He was on his way back to The Eternal City of Rome. But he didn’t leave before filling us with hope and love, reminding us of both our value and our neighbor’s. And not before humbly asking us to pray for him. He reminded us that the Catholic story is a beautiful story. And now the right person was telling it.