A Pope of Encounter

Aaron Lambert

Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families proved that his character is one of not only unconditional love, but also genuine encounter.

Archdiocese of Denver Chancellor David Uebbing experienced this firsthand while he, his wife Jenny and six-week-old son Luke Maximillian were waiting anxiously amidst a crowd of people in Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father when his motorcade rolled by them and slowed down long enough for Luke to be kissed by the Pope.

Uebbing said this special act by Pope Francis towards his family was a perfect example of the kind of effect the Holy Father sought to have during his first U.S. visit.

“It was such a blessing,” Uebbing said. “Pope Francis talks about creating a culture of encounter, and I think that’s one of the things you saw during his visit. What he really did was he just tried to encounter the people of the United States, and I think he was really successful in doing that.”

Uebbing, along with Luke and Jenny, showed up to Independence Mall at 9:30 a.m on Sat., Sept. 26, and waited around all day by the barricades in the Papal audience area hoping for a chance to see Pope Francis up close and maybe get a wave from him. After about seven hours of waiting, Jenny spotted the Pope’s motorcade and signaled his arrival to Uebbing.

“[His arrival] was actually a little anti-climactic,” said Uebbing. “There wasn’t any kind of music or anything, you just saw some police cars coming, a couple of SUV’s and then there was the Pope in the Popemobile.”

Uebbing grabbed Luke from Jenny and made eye contact with head of Vatican security Domenico Giani, whom David remembered from his time in Rome, where he was stationed in 2013 as a journalist for Catholic News Agency. Giani came over to David at the barricade, picked up Luke, took him over to the Popemobile and lifted him up for the Pope to kiss.

As thrilling a moment as it was, Luke didn’t seem to notice what was going on.

“Luke was kind of asleep,” Uebbing said. “He was just kind of splayed out.”

Giani brought Luke back to Uebbing and his wife, and Uebbing thanked him in Italian. But their special encounter with Pope Francis didn’t end there.

“One of the coolest things for us was that after Luke got kissed, the Pope stopped his Popemobile right in front of us, and then for five seconds he just looked right at Jenny, and then he stopped and looked right at me with a huge smile on his face,” Uebbing said.

This culture of encounter, Uebbing said, is exactly what the world needs in order to hear the truth of the Gospel and receive the love that Christ offers.

“I think our world is acutely aware that it’s fallen, but it doesn’t want to admit it, especially if it knows the person who’s saying it isn’t compassionate,” Uebbing said. “I see that Pope Francis’ approach is the best approach for the times we live in.”

COMING UP: Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila issues statement on death of George Floyd

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Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has issued the following statement on the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests in Minneapolis, Denver, and cities across the United States:

“The death of George Floyd this past Monday was horrifying for any person of good will. The inhumane action of one police officer has impacted the entire country and caused undue damage. Racism has no place in the Gospel message or any civil society.

The Catholic Church has always promoted a culture of life, but too often our society has lost its sense of the dignity of every human being from the time of conception until natural death. Every Catholic has a responsibility to promote the dignity of life at every level of life. Too many have made their god their ideology, political party, or the color of their skin, and not the Gospel of Life and the dignity of every human being.

The outrage around the death of George Floyd is understandable and justice must be served.

Yet the violence that we have seen throughout the streets of Denver and other cities in our country only ​advances a culture of death and hatred. Violence against innocent people has no place in a civil society and must come to an end.

I encourage the faithful of the archdiocese to examine our consciences on how we promote a culture of life on all levels, to pray for the conversion of hearts of those who promote racism, to pray that our society may return to a culture of life, and finally and most importantly​, to pray for the repose of the soul of George Floyd, for his family in their loss, and that justice may be served in his case.”

(Featured image by Apu Gomes/Getty Images)