In just a few weeks my good friend, Pope Francis, will be here in the United States on his pastoral visit. My good friend, I say! Well, OK, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to shake his hand and greet him
personally, but our paths have already crossed a number of times. For instance, some short months after he was elected Pope, he saw my name and a brief biography about me, and he decided to accept the recommendation of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome that I be made the Bishop of El Paso. Later that summer in 2013, I was with him and a group of youth from El Paso in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. OK, so there were over 600 other bishops, thousands of priests and millions of youth from all over the world who were also there, but we were together there on Copacabana Beach for Mass!
Last year I also wrote Pope Francis a personal letter inviting him when he enters the United States to come through our gateway here in the Juarez/El Paso/Las Cruces region. Along with the other bishops of our region, I made the case that our area is a model of binational cooperation and one of the largest metropolitan areas found on a border in the world. Some months later, Pope Francis publically commented that he would have loved to cross into the United States as so many immigrants have through the border at Juarez. Unfortunately he said that would not be possible because he could not enter Mexico without a formal visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Time would not permit his coming on this occasion.
So, you see, although we have not personally greeted one another as of yet, our paths have crossed nonetheless. But I suppose that the closeness I already feel to Pope Francis is not simply based upon these somewhat indirect encounters. The closeness I feel is probably much like the closeness I suspect you feel towards him. We feel close to him because he has made us feel close to the one he represents. We feel close to Our Holy Father because his actions and his words have, in so many ways, reminded us of Jesus. He has shown us new possibilities for recognizing Christ present in our world; new ways that Jesus’ teaching about love and mercy and simplicity of life can be applied to life in our times.
His humble smile, his fearless proclamation of the Gospel, his willingness to cross barriers such as prison walls, security corridors, and the entrenched expectations of people have told us all that we are witnessing something extraordinary, even for a time that has already witnessed truly extraordinary Popes.
In a short time I will be traveling East to attend the World Meeting of Families and to be present with Our Holy Father in Washington, DC and in Philadelphia. A number of your brothers and sisters from El Paso will be there as well. At last count I heard that there would be over 820 in our delegation. We have decided that if he could not come to us, we would go to him and we will do our best to represent you.
Who knows, perhaps this time I will shake the hand of my good friend. If I have that opportunity I will assure him of the love and support of the people of the Church of El Paso.