This past spring, I dropped a postcard in the canary yellow box at the Poste Vaticane. I smirked, thinking of my Grandfather’s smile when he received my greeting from Rome. The front of the postcard displayed a characteristic portrait of Il Papa – Pope Francis, beaming, hand raised in peaceful greeting. On the back, I wrote in tidy penmanship, “Papa Francesco is watching you!”. No signature. Nothing further. I knew it would be well received.
Yet from the recent media coverage we are all in actuality, watching Papa Francesco.
This past week the leader of the Catholic Church arrived in Cuba, a country that, under Fidel Castro’s rule was denied any political or spiritual practice outside of Communism for over thirty years. But with the resignation of Fidel and transfer of power to his brother Raúl in 2008, the current President of Cuba is enjoying an ever-growing relationship between his domain and The Holy See. These changes seem to stem from the Pope’s integral role in the strengthening relations between the United States and Cuba. Raúl went as far to state during a May visit to the Vatican that he might “return to the faith” based on his impressions of Pope Francis.
The Pope’s visit this week coincidentally fused together two very different aspects of my life – when my professional and personal life converged.
I am fortunate enough to work at CCJ part of the year from Rome, where I live quite happily in a garden apartment in the neighborhood of Prati. Prati enjoys its location directly northwest of Vatican City, and as soon as I exit my atrium onto the swiftly moving street of Viale Vaticano, I am greeted by the fortress walls of Il Vaticano. Each day I venture out onto the city streets, I must weave my way around the walls of the world’s smallest independent state, as well as tourists lining up to enter the Vatican Museums. With it’s close proximity, Pope Francis is my neighbor, executing his papal reign only a mere half mile from where I live.
When Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis in March of 2013, I watched a live stream of St. Peter’s Square from my desk at Cross Cultural Journeys. White smoke billowed into the air and the bells chimed, signaling the new leader. I was anxious to see who would walk out onto the balcony, spending the previous week placing unholy bets on a subject I knew little about. I had lived in Rome under Pope Benedict and was in the Eternal City during the Beatification of John Paul II, the Pope who, from the millions of people I witnessed under the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica during that event, was beloved by all. I was raised Roman-Catholic to Italian parents, attended Catholic school and then as I grew into a forward-thinking adult, found my own belief system – and whatever those may currently be, I still felt optimistic when Francis walked out over that crowd as the new leader of a 1.25 billion strong organization.
Despite whatever religious affiliation you may subscribe to, one cannot help but correlate the immense feeling of hope in the Pope’s journey to Cuba to the hope we have for the United States and Cuba. And it seems in only a two year span, he has been met with success. Pope Francis deemed US/Cuban relations as a model of reconciliation for the world and voiced his wish that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro persevere in building normal ties between the two countries.
This morning, as I opened my computer to work, I was humbled by a message from one of our travelers who is currently in Cuba at this historic moment. A small group of them ventured into Revolution Square to participate in the greeting of Il Papa.
It was amazing seeing the Pope. It felt like there were no security, no guns or anything. We got less than ten feet away from him. We all started crying. When the Pope mobile went through the crowd, they played this upbeat Cuban music. It was completely different than seeing the pope on CNN in New York or Washington. It was an amazing moment in history. This trip is beyond anything I could have imagined. Well curated. Every day is better than the next. I want anybody who would like to see Cuba at this time to travel with Cross Cultural Journeys. Peggy Taylor, September 24, 2015
And as I devour the media attention on Papa Francesco’s Cuba/US tour, the messages from our travelers, my grandfather’s excited calls surrounding Il Papa’s first US visit, it feels as if we are all hopefully watching each other.
LeAnne J. Smith
Creative Director, Cross Cultural Journeys
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The original post on Cross Cultural Journeys “Travel Journal” can be found here.