Blessing Pope Francis

by Father Pat Conroy (’77), S.J.
Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives

September 24, 2015 was an historic day at the U.S. Capitol.  Pope Francis, on a highly-scheduled visit, arrived in his black Fiat at the carriage entrance on the House side of the building.  Met by both Sergeants at Arms of the houses of Congress, Francis was escorted into the hall and introduced first the Senate Chaplain, Rev. Barry Black, and then his brother Jesuit, the Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. (That would be me.)

Knowing of the tight scheduled, I figured I had all of 20, at most 30 seconds with Francis.  So instead of trying to have a meaningful conversation, in Spanish, which would not have gone well nor yielded any intelligible exchange (one loses a certain amount of real-time awareness when encountering the Pope), I asked him if I might bless him.

As a strategy, I figured this was a slam dunk.  He is always asking people to pray for him.

So this happened:

All image rights and copyrights reserved to the photographic service of L'Osservatore Romano

All image rights and copyrights reserved to the photographic service of L’Osservatore Romano

Personally, it is not hard to be humbled by such an experience.  I had done nothing, accomplished nothing, which led to my serving as Chaplain to the House, other than apply for this position at the request of my Provincial superior.  The Chaplain’s Office is not one that ought to be ambitioned, in my opinion, and so I consider my ministry to be a blessing itself.

The events that followed were equally historic.  After a short stop at the beautiful statue of St. Damien of Moloka’i, Francis was led to a short meeting with Congressional leadership, with whom he shared a short prayer.  Then it was on to the House floor, where a joint session of Congress was gathered to hear his address.  In the gallery were the guests, one each, of Members of the House of Representatives.

I say historic.  It was the first time a Pope was to address the U.S. Congress.  That’s enough.  But what was also historic, (by my four-and-a-half-year tenure’s experience), was the feeling of good will and spirit possessed by all those in attendance.

I am sure there are Members here and there who have been challenged, and who have judged the Pope beyond his pay grade, so to speak, when talking about matters they believe better left to politicians, economists and scientists.  But the very presence of the man seemed to lift the spirits of all those gathered.

In the wake of the Pope’s visit, many photos of my encounter with Francis have been seen on screen, mostly on Facebook.  It is an ongoing blessing to have met Pope Francis, as so many people who have blessed my ministry through so many years and ministries now feel just a little more connected to a great Pontiff – a priest who would build bridges where people and nations are separated from one another, sometimes seemingly without hope of reconciliation.

May we all, as he so often asks, continue to pray for Pope Francis and his vocation from God to serve as the Vicar of Christ.

The Vatican’s photographic record of the Congressional visit can be found at:

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