It is amazing to see how one man can change an entire city. For Rome, that man is Pope Francis. I love him, and so does just about everyone one else on the streets of Rome. In February I met a poor musician, husband and father who makes a living by travelling into Rome every weekday morning to play the guitar in hopes that his hat will collect enough money to pay the rent, feed his family, and buy him a train ticket home that afternoon. His name is Roberto. We’ve become good friends over the past couple months. It is amazing to see how Pope Francis has touched Roberto’s life without the two ever meeting.
Roberto immigrated to Rome from Spain a couple years ago. He started on the street with his wife and little girl before finding lodging with the Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity right outside the colonnade of St Peter’s Square. (A small commercial for the Missionaries of Charity: if they all suddenly left Rome without saying anything to anyone, you would feel it within the hour. The amount of homeless and orphans they feed and shelter here is inspiring. They are the hidden heroes of this city.) Now Roberto lives in a shared apartment that he was able to find and rent with the help of the Church.
Roberto loves Pope Francis. His message of Mercy and love for the poor has touched him to the core, and when we talk about it, he is moved almost to tears. He is just one example of so many rich, poor, religious and lay who have been touched and changed by our beloved pontiff, a man who has transmitted the embrace of God, God’s Mercy.
I would say the most special element of this Eternal City that I have experienced since arriving in August has been the Jubilee of Mercy. Rome is now a city steeped in Mercy. In early April, our community organized its biannual Church-a-thon, where we walked as pilgrims through the streets of Rome to visit 26 of its countless churches, bringing with us the intentions of all our family and friends. We got to see the city from one corner to the other. You can’t walk more than a few steps without running into a church that prides in a special claim to the Year of Mercy: an image, a holy door, a special liturgy or service. There are jubilee banners hanging from churches, street corners, and plazas everywhere. The hundreds of little souvenir and religious goods stores are stocked with jubilee T-shirts, magnets, banners, booklets, stickers, even jubilee chasubles, chalices, and linens. This city breathes of Mercy, God’s Mercy, but we needed a messenger, and Pope Francis has brought the Message, the Good News that is too good to be true.
Sure he’s the Pope. Our Lord may not be asking us to start putting up Year of Mercy banners in Time’s Square, downtown New Orleans or the Jacksonville Landing (I’m not saying he isn’t.), but is there at least a big bright banner of Mercy on your heart? What about your home, your parish, your workplace. As I said, I love Pope Francis. He challenges me to go out of my comfort zone and be a true witness of Mercy. Take up that challenge of Christ’s Vicar and bring that mercy to your “city”. Transform it, just a little. Bring the embrace of God’s Mercy to another little corner of this world, that those around you say, “The world may be in rough shape, but this office or home is special. This place is steeped in God’s Mercy.”