To be honest, I had mixed feelings throughout Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.
Like many Christians, I am simultaneously hopeful that Francis will help guide the Catholic Church in a new direction and frustrated by his limitations and the ongoing conservativism of the church. Pile on the security measures, SEPTA disruptions, and general mayhem in downtown Philadelphia on top of the politics of the Pope’s visit, and my feelings get even more mixed.
This past weekend, I got a chance to put aside my anxiety and soak in the joy and excitement brought by our Catholic visitors from Arkansas. From their arrival, the group took Pope Francis’s message of service and compassion seriously, showing great care for each other, for myself and the rest of the Old First staff, and for our guests.
When the group arrived on Friday, we were running around trying to figure out how to split a group of 108 people into teams for preparing breakfast and wondering if the group had brought all the necessary supplies (ok, maybe I was the only one being anxious). We were surprised, delighted to learn that the organizers of the trip had already divided their group into teams, and had brought more than enough of everything we asked them to bring!
When I woke up the Saturday morning to make coffee for the group, several volunteers were already in the kitchen, waiting to start making breakfast. Throughout the morning, waves of volunteers came through the kitchen, eager (after they got coffee) to prepare breakfast, set out clothes, and welcome guests. Several volunteers got to work cleaning the storage shed for the Clothing Cupboard, which is now so organized its practically unrecognizable. One of our guests who also helps every Saturday said, “This would be so easy if we had this many volunteers every Saturday!”
As we were cleaning up after serving on Sunday, a number of our Arkansas volunteers came up to thank me for the opportunity to serve. I was confused – I thought I was the one that should be thanking them. One of them told me how inspired she was by Old First, and how in northwest Arkansas there are very few resources for homeless people, and her parish was hoping to start a breakfast program.
I still have mixed feelings about Pope Francis. I’m not happy that he met with Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who refused to sign marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.
There are lot of things I wish were different in our churches. But after spending a weekend with a hundred plus Catholic visitors from Arkansas, I am reminded that the joy and love of God shines in so many different places. I am grateful that I got to see some of that light shine amidst the chaos of Pope weekend.
See you in church,