Make Sure to Answer the Phone, The Anchor, September 13, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
The Anchor
September 13, 2013

From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been summoning the Church to bring the Gospel to those on the peripheries of existence.

He has tried to lead by example. He visited a refugee center in Rome earlier this week. In his first trip, he flew to Lampedusa, the Ellis Island of Italy, to comfort the multitude fleeing desperate situations in Africa bring the spotlight of the world on their plight. He made it a point to visit an impoverished favela in Rio and even visited a home of one of the families.

In Buenos Aires, he used to relish the one-on-one interactions he would have answering the door and phone himself at the Archbishop’s residence, meeting the faithful and unfaithful on buses and subways, on the streets, in the villas de miseria (the neighborhoods of misery) and in parishes across his Archdiocese.

Surely among the greatest difficulties for him since his election six months ago today must be the many practical obstacles that have limited his opportunities to meet those on the outskirts.

He told priests at the Chrism Mass in March that a good shepherd is one who is so close to his sheep that he knows their distinctive smell. A few years back he praised one priest for knowing his parishioners so well that he remembered not only their names, but their pets’ names.

That’s obviously the type of priest he aspires to be, but it’s obviously much harder now.

One of the ways that Pope Francis has found to maintain that direct pastoral contact with those on the peripheries is through the telephone.

In the first few days after his election, his use of the telephone captivated the world.

He called Carlos Samaria, his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires, to inquire about his shoe repair and to let him know that someone else would be retrieving his footwear.

He telephoned his newspaperman, Daniel del Regno, to cancel his subscription and to thank him for delivering the newspaper to him for so many years.

He called his Argentine dentist to cancel the appointment he would no longer be able to keep.

He famously tried to call the Superior General of the Jesuits, but the young Jesuit at the switchboard didn’t believe he was the Pope and said he was tempted to respond, “And I’m Napoleon!”

It’s becoming clear, however, that Pope Francis has found another type of use for the phone. He’s using it as a bridge to reach out to those in need on the fringes.

On August 7, he called Michele Ferri, who had written him for prayers because he was finding it impossible to forgive the two men who had murdered his brother Andrea in Pesaro, Italy. Pope Francis called him, told him he cried reading his letter, comforted him about the death of his brother, encouraged him to forgive, and then asked to speak to his mother to extend to her his deepest sympathies.

On August 18, he phoned Stefano Cabizza, a 19-year old computer engineer from Padua worried about finding a job after graduation. He had passed a note to a Cardinal at the Pope’s Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption. The Pope called three times before reaching Stefano. In an eight minute conversation full of laughter, he filled Stefano with hope, encouraging him to refer to him in the informal “tu” as friends are accustomed to address each other.

On August 25, he phoned Alejandra Pereyra, a 44-year-old Argentinian mother of six who had written him describing that she had been raped by a police officer at gunpoint in his cruiser, but that the police department is covering up the rape and actually promoted the officer in question. Pope Francis spent a half-hour with her patiently listening to her story. He encouraged her to be calm and reminded her that she was not alone. She said the encounter gave her back her faith, her confidence and the courage to continue seeking justice.

Perhaps the most moving of all happened ten days ago. Pope Francis called Anna Romano, a 35-year old Roman whose boyfriend, after she told him she was pregnant, divulged he was married and tried to persuade her to have an abortion. She wrote in anguish to the Pope asking for prayers. He called, spoke to her as friend, mentioned how “strong and brave” she was, and as she told an Italian newspaper, “reassured me, telling me that the baby was a gift from God, a sign of Providence. He told me I would not be left alone.” After she said she was worried that because she’s a divorcée her baby might not be able to be baptized, Pope Francis told her he was sure she would be surely find a willing pastor, “but if not, you know there’s always me!”

The calls have become known because their recipients have told the world about them. There’s no way to know how many others have been called who have been kept the calls themselves.

It’s obviously impossible for the Pope to respond personally with a phone call to the thousands of letters he receives everyday. But if he so prioritizes reaching out to those in need however he can, we should use whatever means we have to make that same Christian effort.

The other lesson is that if you have some particular need for prayers, don’t hesitate to write him: Pope Francis, 00120 Vatican City State, Europe.

And when the phone rings, answer it!