By Father Timothy Gollob
Special to The Texas Catholic
When we saw the white puff of smoke come from the roof of the Sistine Chapel last month we wondered, “Who was our new pontiff?”
He came to the window and the caption on the screen read: Pope Francis!
I thought that probably all the cardinals had toyed with a secret name in the event that they might be the new pope. They knew it would be a symbol of who they were and where they had come from and what direction they would take the church.
Immediately upon hearing the name, I recognized that the new leader of our church had reached back in history to the humble deacon of Assisi to be his namesake and patron.
St. Francis lived 80 miles north of Rome in the Umbrian hills in the town of Assisi, built on top of Mount Subasio during the 13th century. Assisi was my favorite place to visit during my years in Italy. There was something very spiritual and uplifting and healing about the town.
There were many stories about St. Francis, but the one that I appreciated most was about his excursion during the Crusades to the Holy Land. He went to the court of the Sultan Malik al-Kamil in Egypt. The two dialoged on the possibility of peace between the Christians and the Muslims.
Another story tells of St. Francis praying in the ruins of the church of St. Damiano. The image of the crucified Christ spoke to him and said that he was called upon to repair Christ’s church, which was falling apart.
On one of my visits to the town with my classmate Laurence Breslin, we were blessed with a manifestation of the peaceful way the people of the town settled their quarrels from ancient times. Each Easter the folks in the top part (“Sopra”) would dress up in medieval costumes and meet the folks from the lower part of the town (“Sotto”) for a contest between their choirs.
The Sopras would sing at the Cathedral of San Rufino. The Sottos would sing at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in the town square. Whoever was the most talented would be the rulers of the town for the coming year.
Maybe this tradition inspired Pope Francis’ Easter message:
“How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbor, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden; can restore life to dry bones.”
Father Timothy Gollob is the pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.