Pope Francis’s travels receive a great deal of media coverage. From his public celebrations of Holy Mass to his audiences with world leaders; to his visits with the local sick or imprisoned; to his comments aboard the airplane and his famous and free-wheeling in-flight press conferences, nearly every aspect of his voyage is covered and analyzed in great detail.
One of the most interesting yet underappreciated parts of Pope Francis’s apostolic pilgrimages, however, are the conversations that he often has with local the Jesuit communities. Typically, the transcripts of these question-and-answer sessions are released some time later, after the media buzz from the papal visit has died down.
While I encourage you to read the entire thing, I want to bring your attention to one response by the Holy Father. When A young Jesuit scholastic inquired, “if and how his experience of God has changed since he was elected pope,” Pope Francis remarked that it was a question that no one had ever asked him before. His response provides an interesting window into how he understands his relationship with God and his experience of the papacy (emphasis mine):
Fr. Leonardo Alexandria Simao, a scholastic in formation in Beira, speaks next and tells about his work with young people. The pope tells him that it is an important work and that “his ask is to communicate the Gospel and to ensure that young people are internally free.” Then the Jesuit asks him if and how his experience of God has changed since he was elected pope. Francis takes a short time to reflect and then responds…
I can’t tell you, actually. I mean, I guess my experience of God hasn’t fundamentally changed. I remain the same as before. Yes, I feel a sense of greater responsibility, no doubt. My prayer of intercession has become much wider than before. But even beforehand I lived the prayer of intercession and felt pastoral responsibility. I keep walking, but there’s not really been any radical change. I speak to the Lord as before. I feel God gives me the grace I need for the present time. But the Lord gave it to me before. And I commit the same sins as before. My election as pope did not convert me suddenly, so as to make me less sinful than before. I am and I remain a sinner. That’s why I confess every two weeks.
I have never been asked this question before, and I thank you for asking me because it makes me think about my spiritual life. I understand, as I told you, that my relationship with the Lord has not changed, apart from a greater sense of responsibility and a prayer of intercession that has spread to the world and to the whole Church. But the temptations are the same and so are the sins. The mere fact that I now dress all in white has not made me any less sinful or holier than before.
It comforts me a lot to know that Peter, the last time he appears in the Gospels, is still as insecure as he was before. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked him if he loved him more than others and asked him to tend to his sheep, and then confirmed him. But Peter remains the same person he was: stubborn, impetuous. Paul will have to confront and fight with his stubbornness about the Christians who came from paganism and not from Judaism. At the beginning Peter in Antioch lived the freedom that God gave him and sat at table with the pagans and ate with them quietly, putting aside the Jewish food rules. But then some came there from Jerusalem, and Peter, out of fear, withdrew from the table of the pagans and ate only with the circumcised. In short: from freedom he passed again to the slavery of fear. There he is, Peter the hypocrite, the man of compromise! Reading about Peter’s hypocrisy comforts me so much and warns me. Above all, this helps me to understand that there is no magic in being elected pope. The conclave doesn’t work by magic.
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.