As a non-Catholic I call him Uncle Frank, no disrespect intended. On the contrary, when I was growing up, I addressed special family friends as “Aunt” or Uncle,” but only a select few who were very special.
The pope’s visit went better than anyone could have expected. He drew huge crowds of orderly followers, there were no undesirable incidents, no crackpot group tried to publicize their own cause, the complex schedule ran smoothly, and Philadelphia’s politicians conducted themselves with surprising dignity and restraint. I expected to see them elbow themselves to the front wherever the red bulb of a live TV camera glowed, but, no, at most you noticed them standing in the background, the only ones without zucchettos. Especially commendable was Mayor Nutter who would have taken the blame for anything bad that might have happened, no matter how unfair: a security vehicle hitting a pedestrian, a choir member falling off of the stage, someone throwing an egg. It was all on the line for him with a lot to lose, but he did himself proud by orchestrating it from the background. The elaborate preparations that seemed over-the-top and frenetic at the time, worked.
Philadelphia also did itself proud. The Art Museum, the Eakins Oval, and the Ben Franklin Parkway made a superb venue for a huge outdoor event like this. New York has its Central Park and Chicago its Waterfront, but even those do not come close to matching Philadelphia’s facilities.
Uncle Frank did himself proud, too. Americans now know him better, and they like what they see. As with most of us his age, his hound-dog face droops when relaxed, looking like he is a little irritated, but it quickly lights up in delight when he is pleased—which is often. His speech at the World Festival of Families on Saturday evening in front of the Art Museum was an amazing presentation of animated impromptu comments with sincere gestures—and smiles. He was talking from his heart, and it showed. There was no denying the sincerity of his motivations even though some of his recommendations seem flawed.
My buddy at the JCC, the guy that studied for the priesthood years ago before switching to psychology, pointed out this is the first pope to bring joy to Catholicism. We are the same age and grew up when Pious XII was pope, who did not seem to find much joy in anything. My buddy did not find much joy in his parochial school education, either. It was all about toeing the line and continual groveling for forgiveness for an unending litany of transgressions.
Later, I talked with the JCC receptionist. I told her one of the main advantage of my long association with them was learning about Judaism, that the religion was much deeper and family-orientated than I had realized. “And it is about how to live this life, not so much about the next,” she added. How true, I thought. When did Christianity begin to see this life as merely a brief test for the eternal life to come? No wonder they are so serious.
Uncle Frank has opened the possibility of finding growth and joy within the Catholic religious experience. He has already accomplished this with the parishioners, even if he fails at reforming the Vatican Curia. It seems we have the perfect man for the times.
(I was able to follow the icon of his plane, Shepherd-1, on the app FlightRadar24 (see posting of 3/14/2014), watching it as it took off Sunday evening, heading north from the Philadelphia Airport, turning east, and crossing the coast at Seaside Heights on its way over the Atlantic to Rome.)