The meek inherit Pope Francis’ compassion

The meek inherit Pope Francis’ compassion
The Notebook
Fr Bernard Healy


During the past 10 years of parish ministry, I’ve often been asked how priests deal with the sheer variety of our work. There are days when you have to go from a funeral to a baptism, or from a wedding reception to a deathbed. At all times the priest has to bring something of the love and encouragement of Christ, respecting the particular needs of each situation.

That same question came to my own mind when I watched coverage of Pope Francis’s first day in Ireland. In many ways he might be thought of as the universal parish priest trying to bring Faith and hope to the whole world. Things in Dublin kicked off with the formalities of welcome and the tense exchange of speeches with the Taoiseach.

From there followed a round of pastoral visits: to Sean McDermott Street, to meet with newlyweds and engaged couples in the Pro-Cathedral and to the Capuchin Day Centre in Church Street.

The evening brought a meeting with survivors of abuse where sorrow must have been the prevailing emotion, and the day concluded with the joy of the Festival of Families. Add to all the above the concerns and demands of his worldwide ministry and you have to ask where he gets the energy for it all.

I got the impression that during the day’s activities, the Pope was most alive and invigorated when visiting the Capuchin Day Centre in Church Street. On RTÉ1, Bro. Richard Hendrick rightly pointed out that the Capuchins and their local community form a kind of family and the Pope picked up on this. He praised the work of the Capuchins and their closeness to the poor. He spoke about their generosity to all and said that it should be an encouragement to all priests to be generous with God’s mercy.

Then, speaking to the clients of the Day Centre, he praised their love and trust for the Capuchins, noting that this springs from the dignity with which they are received. He asked them to seek out the Capuchins for advice in time of doubt and crisis.

And then he did something surprising! He asked especially for the prayers of the poor – for the Church, for priests, for the Capuchins, for Bishops and for the Pope himself. He could have asked prayers of any or all the people he met during the day, but he made a particular point of asking them from the poor.

There’s a message in all that about what makes Pope Francis tick, where he finds his energy and the kind of pastoral care that’s most important to him.


At the foot of the Penal Cross placed on the altar for the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park and on the modern processional cross used at the Mass is the image of the rooster and cooking pot.

The reference is to an Irish folk tale. Pilate’s wife was distressed by the crucifixion of Christ. The story goes that Pilate told her that Christ would no more rise from the dead than the rooster cooking in the pot would come back to life. With that, the bird leapt out of the pot crowing “Tá Mac Na hÓige Slán” – “The Son of the Virgin is safe”.

Pope Francis often talks about the ‘God of surprises’. I sometimes think that the word ‘surprise’ is too mild a word to describe what God actually did in winning our salvation. Every ‘surprise’ he gives us springs from and points back to the Cross and Resurrection and brings with it the Good News that the powers represented by Pilate and his minions are living on borrowed time. Only sacrificial love prevails! That is our supreme encouragement.


GK Chesterton famously wrote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

In saying this he was putting his finger on the value of witnesses to the Christian faith who make the most difficult ideals real by living them in their lives.

In the commentary surrounding the World Meeting of Families it was largely forgotten that the Meeting serves as a chance for families who bear witness to the Gospel to encourage and inspire each other.

They might not make headlines, but the various families who spoke at the Festival of Families should stick in our minds and remind us that removed from all the debates and controversy there are still families and communities that enthusiastically, imaginatively and faithfully live out the Christian virtues.