Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pope Francis

We had five hours to explore the undiscovered in Rome; seven of us decided to start with the synagogue and the Jewish quarter. A small crowd waited at the front door and barricades were set up all around the synagogue's perimeter.

"The Pope is coming," we heard. We wouldn't be seeing the synagogue--not a problem nor a disappointment. Remember, we were flexible.

We were all hungry so we found a kosher restaurant. We came in from the cold and gathered around a table to share a meal. Some found in their first kosher experience they couldn't mix dairy and meat--no pepperoni pizzas for the teenagers.

As we sat in the warm restaurant, almost finished with our meal, we noticed a few people gathering around one of the barricades. We began to think about the possibility of actually seeing the Pope. It was a Sunday afternoon and what could be better than seeing the Pope while in Rome? Exactly.

We sent the four teenagers off while we waited for the bill. Once outside the wind had picked up. As we stood looking for our charges, we couldn't see them anywhere. I approached one of the police at the barricade and asked about the Pope.

"Coming at 4:00," we were told.

We spotted the kids! Behind the barricades! We marched up to the guards and the only requirement was a "pat down," with a metal detector wand. We were in and it was 20 minutes until we could see the Pope.

All through Italy, people ask about the time, or request someone's time with these two questions, "Is it German time or Italian time?" When an exact meeting time is important, the person is asked to attend in "ten German minutes."  Precision and promptness apparently do not reside in the Italian heart.

I sensed though, that the Pope would be punctual for his meeting at the synagogue. Twenty minutes in the cold was not much time.

As the minutes ticked by, the anticipation barometer rose. At ten minutes until 4:00, the plastic was torn off the royal blue carpets. Guards, police, and people of the synagogue moved a little faster, looked around a little bit more. Cameramen on top of scaffolding peered through their lenses.

And then he was there. A dear old man, in a long white robe, turned the corner with an unexpectedly small entourage.  He proceeded walking forward, stopped and raised his hand to greet us. A special moment indeed. Special to be around people who revered this man as the head of their church. Special to see a man who is trying to bring peace and spirituality to a troubled world.

The head Rabbi waited for him on the blue carpet. He and the Pope embraced and for a moment, all was right in the world. There was no possibility of a Holocaust, no crusades, no anti-semiticim, no anti-catholicism. The answer to "Am I my brother's keeper?" was a definite yes.

While walking away from that historic moment, excited and touched we were able to witness such an event, Nate reminded his son, and unintentionally me: "We all believe in the same things, the same God. We need to remember this more than the tiny differences that make us different religions."

We'd only had five hours to explore the undiscovered in Rome; but the undiscovered is more than ancient alleys, ruins and art. The best undiscovered may not be tangible and as we learned, it's impossible to predict. It's encounters with the unplanned-- being in the right place at the precise right moment without knowing what that moment will be. Serendipity requires openness. Intuitiveness  and flexibility are as important as a map. And if one is lucky, she may run into the Pope.

 Pope Francis on his way to build and restore one of the world's bridges.
Slade, Ben, Susanna, Annie and Isabella all waiting to see the Pope.