Leave Your Signs at Home: A Guide to Seeing the Pope

By Javier Soegaard

As we all know, this was the greatest week ever.  Pope Francis was here and the Mets clinched the NL East.

Like several of our writers and, I hope, many of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of the traveling Pontiff during his Apostolic Visit.  However, thanks to the thoroughness of the TSA and Secret Service, my group and I almost missed our brief opportunity to see him in Central Park, NYC.

The security process to enter the park was seemingly absurd.  Snaking back and forth along Central Park West for a total of 18 blocks, it took us well over 2.5 hours just to get into the park.  With each tiptoed step and each city block passed by, everyone in line grew more and more nervous that we would miss the Pope’s short drive through the park.

IMG_2420I was tired too, buddy.

4:00 became 4:30, 4:30 became 4:45, 4:45 became 5:00, 5:00 became 5:01, 5:02, 5:03 and ahh he’s going to be here soon and we’re still not in!!  Eventually it became 5:16 and I texted my mother: “About to go through the metal detector”.  The pope then drove by us around 5:25, much to our relief and elation.  It was unreal.

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I’m still unsure, however, why it took so long to get through the line.  I’m not sure why the security staff jeopardized so many people’s single opportunity to see the Pope.  Just thinking about it and conversing about it in line was a maddening experience.  For all their hyper-sensitivity in the security process, though, there was one thing they nailed and I believe it made all the difference.

They didn’t let people bring signs in. Except this guy, of course.  He brought in a cardboard cutout of Francis.  But other than that.  No signs.IMG_2418

This may seem insignificant, as signs are, on the whole, not a major security risk.  Like mobile devices, however, signs are distractions.  Some are harmless distractions, saying things like “We love you Pope Francis,” but others come as part of the camps, agendas, or theological opinions that immediately set believers against each other–the kinds that make people claim Francis for their side over against another.

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t have strong opinions, and even less that they should keep those opinions to themselves.  However,  for a moment, when the Pope drove by, our hands were free of everything but rosaries and mobile phones.  For a moment we knew very little about one another:  we knew not whether we were pro-life or pro-choice, for or against traditional marriage, for or against the Latin Mass, for or against women’s ordination, for or against stricter immigration laws, for or against ecological reforms, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, people with good handwriting or people like me.

All we knew was that this adorable and admirable man in white stirred something within us; he reminded us of a unity we had forgotten: the union we have in Christ Jesus as members of the human family and as member of His Church.

So if you ever go to see the Pope, think about leaving your signs at home.  Forget your pretenses and your arguments and your well-held positions.  Just go and see the man who will remind you of that deep and beautiful connection you have to others in Christ.  Then weep if you have to, or laugh.  But most of all pray for those strangers locked in the moment with you, and pray for him, that cute old man in white of whom the Lord asks so much.
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