It was announced yesterday that Pope Francis would be washing the feet of people with disabilities next week when he celebrates the Mass of the Lord's Supper. He will celebrate at the St. Mary of Providence Center of the Don Gnocchi Foundation, an Italian rest or nursing home that cares for people with disabilities and the elderly. Though the twelve individuals who will be part of the ceremony have not been named, I am sure that they will include both women and men. Pope Francis has demonstrated a special love for people with disabilities, especially children. Who can forget the touching scene at Assisi where he greeted every individual in the room personally?
It has been more than a year since his election, yet the crowds of people attending his audiences has not diminished. Throughout the winter months, even in the coldest weather, crowds at his Wednesday audience and at the Angelus on Sunday have continued to throng in the plaza in front of St. Peter's. Only when a special group gathers for a private audience can the audience be held in the audience hall constructed for that purpose. Such a meeting took place just recently when he invited all the parish priests of Rome to join him in the audience hall where he thanked them publically for their service to the Diocese of Rome. As their bishop, he wanted to do this is a personal manner.
Perhaps this will be the lasting legacy of Pope Francis; namely, his very personal approach to his ministry. This morning, he recognized an old friend in the crowd as he rode on the Popemobile. He asked the driver to stop and invited his old friend to come forward. There in front of the crowd of more than ten thousand, he singled out this man for an embrace and a friendly chat. Someone in the crowd shouted out, "Francis, you're one of a kind." The Pope stopped and shouted back, "So are you. No one else is like you."
This very personal touch is, I believe, the hallmark of this Pope. Nothing has changed as far as dogma or doctrine is concerned. We all realize that it will not ever change. However, what has changed is this man's very humble and endearing style that reaches out to others as individuals. As the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ, he is the visible head of the Church and ministers to all of us as a group. However, what stands out is that the group never takes precedence over the individual.
As CUSANS, it is important that we keep this example in mind. CUSA is characterized by its group letters, but we have always asked our members to address each member of the group personally. It is another extension of that personal touch that characterized the ministry of Jesus and which Pope Francis models for us so well.