The long-anticipated day finally arrived for our direct interaction with Pope Francis. The morning started with a conversation at the sidewalk cafe over cappuccinos. What a great invention!
We departed for the Vatican at 9 a.m. and met first with the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Archbishop Pietro Parolin. What a good man. He keeps quite busy right now getting ready to receive the presidents of the Palestinian Authority and of Israel at the end of this week for their widely publicized time to pray together. He is also responding to several challenges around the world, including the encroachment by Boka Haran on Catholic parishes in Nigeria.
We waited for our audience with the pope in the large area outside the papal office. Pope Francis’ decision to live within a community has received worldwide attention. He hasn’t settled into his official residence—and what a residence it is, surrounded by some of the most glorious art imaginable.
Eventually, we met Pope Francis. All week we’d seen his personality on display. He is open and inclusive. We’ve heard stories about his efforts to make the circle bigger. One I especially enjoyed focused on his time as a cardinal in Argentina. He had extra room in his top-floor building, and he rented it to Youth with a Mission (YWAM). Periodically, he climbed the stairs to join YWAM employees for prayer.
What we heard all week aligns with what we understand after the meeting today: Pope Francis wants to reform the church by focusing on the family, the laity and the New Evangelization. He wants to expand the role of women in the church but remains clear on what parameters need to remain in place. He is working to build a broad consensus around unity in Jesus. As he departed, he asked us simply, “Please pray for me.”
Tonight I’m processing an entire week. It has been remarkable on so many fronts. We’ve heard Vatican officials exclaim on several occasions, “This is a new day.” Welcoming Protestants to the Vatican for joint conversations on issues of substance is unprecedented.
We share that feeling as well. I know I hope that Christians everywhere can come together around the shared mission of extending the life and ministry of Jesus. The future is full of possibilities, and I can only imagine what they will bring.
Tomorrow I’ll write a concluding blog highlighting all the people who participated in this journey before I head home. It has been a good week.