How the Pope brought our messy multitude together

Story highlights

As Pope Francis called for unity, he drew crowds in in Washington, New York and Philadelphia

He said we are better when we work together; when we don't set aside our differences but celebrate them

Philadelphia CNN  — 

He introduced himself as a brother, a son of immigrants, a neighbor from beyond our southern border.

He came to remind our politicians of the country’s founding principles and to encourage them to protect our families and our earth from an uncertain future.

In a country where Christianity often comes wrapped in an American flag, he said that we are better when we work together, when we don’t set aside our differences but celebrate them – wherever we are from, whatever God we worship.

He came to meet us, finally, to look into our eyes and share our struggles.

For six days the earth seemed to tilt toward the man wearing the plain white cassock and the Mona Lisa smile. Wherever Pope Francis went in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, we eddied and pooled around him, cheers rising from the crowd as he approached.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, tears up after hearing the Pope talk about immigration. The presidential candidate was attending a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

In Washington, he shook hands with our President, stood silent through our pomp and showy sense of history. And then, in a soft, grandfatherly voice, he reminded our Congress that history speaks not through the perfect and the proud, but through the flawed and the humble.

He drew tears from our lawmakers, not once but twice.

And one of the nation’s most powerful men relinquished his power the day after meeting him.

00:46 - Source: CNN
John Boehner chokes up during resignation

He went straight from the halls of Congress to a homeless shelter, where few cameras or cares ever reach. He blessed their meals, saying that before God, there are no rich or poor. There are only sons and daughters.

From Washington, he flew to New York, where he hit the city’s cultural icons with the speed of a tourist on a tight budget and the stamina of a man 40 years younger.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Central Park. The United Nations. Madison Square Garden.

Of them all, he seemed to have the most fun at a little school in Harlem.

(An exhausted journalist asked a papal aide about this boundless energy. It comes from outside, the aide admitted, from the people he meets and the God he worships.)

At ground zero, a sacred and scarred site where words rarely suffice, he somehow found the right ones. We must never forget the victims murdered on that day, he said. But we must also remember the spirit of solidarity that rose from the city in the pained aftermath, when we cared for each other, if only for a while, as though we were brothers and sisters.

01 pope francis ground zero

For all the care he took with his words, he was most energized when he went off-script:

Cupping his ear to encourage schoolchildren to sing a little louder …

02:13 - Source: CNN
Pope Francis asks students to pray for him

using complicated geometry (polyhedrons, Pope Francis?) to illustrate a point about globalization: that all parts – all people – are equidistant from the center …

admitting, at a meeting dedicated to transmitting Catholic truths about the ideal family, that there is no such thing. Plates fly and children cause headaches and mothers-in-law … well, don’t get him started on that.

Still, our families are “factories of hope,” he said, our homes the site of a thousand tiny miracles.

02:37 - Source: CNN
Pope Francis: 'Before creating the world, God loved'

In Philadelphia, a city still reeling from a clergy sexual abuse scandal, he met with survivors. He apologized for the unforgivable and pledged to punish the guilty.

“God weeps,” he said, after hearing survivors’ stories.

Later that day, he went to another place of pain, a Philadelphia prison, where the man in the clean white cassock said we all have stained souls and dirty feet.

But we keep walking.

And they walked, as well, to see him.

The 88-year-old grandmother who left a short note on the kitchen table:

“I went to see the Pope,” she said. “This is my special pilgrimage.”

The families caring for sick children who needed a spiritual shot in the arm. The priests who wanted to see their humble Holy Father. The immigrants who hear echoes of their voice in his softly accented Spanish.

The Pope’s people.

After a summer of racial injustice and riots, a season of political scapegoating and talk of building walls, he came to build a bridge – to be a bridge.

And he was. For at least these six days, he brought our messy multitude together: singing, dancing, laughing, crying, hoping, praying.

And before he flew back to Rome, he blessed our ambitious and chaotic country. And he asked us, as he always does, to please pray for him.