I’m not a “lapsed Catholic,” I’m more of an eclipsed Catholic. The whole idea of finding my way in the Church has been eclipsed by riding my way through the wonderful woods and creeks just behind my house on Sunday afternoons.
I was an altar boy for many years, as were my brothers. It was the expected thing to do. We went through the motions of helping the priest transform the wine and communion wafers into the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. We memorized the rituals in Latin, which almost no one except for the priest and a few nuns understood.
What I didn’t understand was why the Church wasn’t more interested in the lives of the parishioners, who were mostly Latino immigrants who worked long, hard hours in the fields, stooped over sugar beets, picking potatoes from the ground and tossing them into long, rough burlap bags, pulling onions out of the plowed earth and quickly cutting the green tops off with a knife before tossing the stinky globe into a basket that fed into bags which were heaved into a slowly moving truck bed.
I was glad to see that there is now a Pope Francisco I, from Argentina. He was an Archbishop and entitled to live in a palace and use a limousine and driver to take him anywhere he wanted to go.
But he didn’t live in opulence, he had a tiny apartment. He didn’t use the limo, he took a city bus to the cathedral, waiting with the poor and common people in the rain and dark.
Now he is Pope Francisco I, taking his new name from St. Francis of Assisi, who shocked the world by embracing a leper. That touched a nerve in me, reminding me of Flaubert’s story, “The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier,” about a man who carried lepers, the crippled, the blind and just about anyone on his back across a raging creek to atone for a horrible deed.
The Pope will now live in Rome, a huge, bustling city of incredible beauty but also home to many African refugees and victims of the never-ending wars in the Middle East.
I hope that the Pope will seek out these lost and forgotten people. There is no better way for him to meet these people than riding a bike. Yes, at 76 he cannot be expected to ride a bike. But a pedi-cab could be one way. I would gladly pedal the Pope anywhere so his decisions could be influenced by contact with the lowest among us.
Of course, the Pope can’t be pedaled around because there are crazy people out there who would want to harm him. There are zealots from other religions who consider him a heretic. He’ll be locked up in the bulletproof glass of the Popemobile, another religious relic to be seen, but not touched.
So when I ride in my beloved woods, I’ll think about Pope Francis I and all the other powerful humans who have the means to make life better on Earth right now. And when I see a poor human riding their beater bike to work, I’ll say a prayer:
“May our wheels turn in the earth and may we breathe the fresh air, our holy sacraments.”