This new pope we have makes quite an impression on everyone. To me, he is a great man. Not everyone thinks the same way. “Too radical. Too forgiving. Too humble.” Not to mention he loves people of all nations, all religions, all sexual orientations.
“Who am I to judge?” he said in that laughing voice that reminds one of the songs he sang in his native country of Argentina.
Some things are immutable. Abortion is forbidden and always will be. Period. No pun intended, though the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio certainly has a sense of humor.
Later on I will tell you a story of his going incognito and becoming Jorge once again. Jor-ge – Jor-ge – Jor-ge, like the blind librarian of Chile, known as Borges.
The two of us have known each other since the simple days in the beautiful countryside of Buenos Aires. This trusting relationship spans his days as a “bouncer” in a night club, a chemical engineer, and his decision, made after much prayer on bended knees, to become a man of the cloth.
El Papa does what he wants.
Up the ranks of the hierarchy he climbed with the confidence of a child shinnying up a rubber tree.
We travel the world together. Believe it or not, I am the only person he can trust. Little me. Far from powerful. But knowing my place. Once, his mother knew him better than anyone else, but now it is me. I feed him the news in bite-size chunks like the Ritz Crackers he eats between meals with a hunk of goat cheese.
“Shocking” is the only word to describe the discovery of the bespectacled John Lennon’s stolen artifacts, including a few pairs of his famous round eyeglasses, much like the ones El Papa wears upon occasion.
“Thou shalt not steal,” commanded Moses, in his Ten Commandments. Jewish scholar Maimonides did Moses one better. He viewed stealing as one step in the progression from covetous desire to murder.
German police recovered a trove of stolen artifacts belonging to John Lennon, including a set of diaries. What could be more personal than this? On the very day he was assassinated, he had written his final entry. We were quite familiar with Mr. Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus. And found it an amusing bit of hyperbole.
But the Pope wept when Lennon was pronounced dead. We all prayed together in the guesthouse behind the Vatican where he makes his home. Do not be fooled. The guesthouse is as big as a five-story hotel. He prays by himself or with others, his white vestments protecting his sensitive soul whose feelings are as wide as the hill on Golgotha, where his Lord was crucified.
In this mortal world where all things are possible, The Pope insists on traveling around the globe to minister to his people, The Catholics, and to other faiths, as well. He wishes to heal broken hearts, to meet the sick as Jesus once did, and bless the now billions of humans, many, like the Dalits of India, who live in squalor and are as black as the dung on which they make their living, shunned by society. They crawl like dogs among the steaming piles of trash.
He knows all this. Through prayer and meditation, His Holiness is able to touch suffering humanity while remaining as solid as Noah on his ark.
So it was that we were on our way to the great continent of Asia.
We were noshing on his special Alitalia airplane. He is a man who makes himself comfortable wherever he is. He greets reporters who travel on the plane, with the familiarity of an uncle. Brings them little gifts. What kind of man is this? How has God created such a man?
Touchdown to the land formerly called Burma. The air is crisp. The sky a brilliant blue that can only occur at such a high altitude. The pontiff wears now a red vestment that sways with the freezing-cold wind. The chill he feels is quickly forgotten by viewing the mass of humanity come to see him, to touch him, to offer their faces, their cheeks, to the man they consider the human face of Jesus.
With his hand he blesses them and signals that they relax, calm down. They wish to kiss his ring, the Fisherman’s Ring, fashioned anew for the reigning pope. Francis is reminded of his high school ring and the mischief he would get into, praying that his mother wouldn’t find out about it.
“The presence of God today is called Rohingya,” the pontiff acknowledges to the hordes before him. Yes, he has said the word. Rohingya. The cast-off Buddhists, “despised and rejected by mankind… and familiar with pain.”
I mingle with the crowd. Their bodies smell of sweat, of sweetness, of anise and turmeric, of hope, and the bracelets of the women – so many on each wrist and ankles, too – jangle, before our padre – as they hold up their dark-skinned children who have little idea of what is going on. Francis holds a little one up toward the sky. “Dios sea contigo,” he says, many a time.
Finally, as dusk settles upon us, we view the behemoth of the airplane waiting patiently for us. Its red and green designs on the tail match the Italian flag, “il Tricolore,” little different than when the fascist Mussolini ruled the land seventy-two years ago.
There is no doubt the Pope is aware of the tides of history and knows, too, that a previous pope – Pius XII – sanctioned the persecution of the Jews during The Holocaust. After all, it was the Catholic Church itself, for shame a million times, who insisted on calling the Jews “Christ killers.”
I, myself, am Jewish, as el Papa well knows. Sixty-one years ago I was born to my Jewish mother, Berenice, who fell in love with her next door neighbor. Bruno was a married man, but they often met secretly on the banks of the river. There he would line the ground with soft pine needles and murmur about her beauty, her dark eyes, her eyelashes that seemed to whisk the very sky above. They made passionate love and wanted to run away together. They knew this could not be. When she was with child, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio arranged for her to deliver her child with a midwife.
The room, I am told, was white, with a dark cross on the wall, scrubbed clean and smelling of pine soap.
First I was cared for by Jorge’s parents. When they passed from this earth, Jorge took me in. No man could have been kinder. “My little mouse,” he would call me. “Raton!,” though my real name was Joshua.
Aboard the airplane as we left Myanmar, we felt the take-off, as gentle as a breeze. We reminisced about the time when his Joshua was just twelve years old and el Papa dressed in khaki pants, a red T-shirt saying “Turner Classic Movies” and a New York Yankees cap, visited Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Few people paid attention to the Spanish-speaking father and son, as we stood in line to ride the gilded Ferris wheel. “Raton! My little Mouse!” he exclaimed as our carriage door snapped shut and we swayed back and forth over the colorful crowd.
“El Paradiso, may look like this,” he said, pushing back his Yankees hat and smiling out over the crowd. “You know,” he continued, “when I ascend to be with my people above, I wish, my Little Mouse, that you have all my books.”
“Always thinking,” I said to him. “Always with your head in the clouds.”
We laughed. Nothing could ever stop our laughter.
The Italian airplane afforded a magnificent view as we left Myanmar behind. “Is it not wonderful to believe, little Raton?”
I did what I always do when we’re up in the air. Looking out the window, I made shapes of the clouds. Whales, trombones, pouncing tigers. And before I knew it, I was asleep. And so was my Papa.
Ruth Z. Deming has had her poetry published in lit mags including Literary Yard, River Poets, Blue Bonnet Review and JonahMagazine. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Pennsylvania in the US of A.