In the image “seen round the world”—in today’s parlance, “gone viral”– Pope Francis has commanded a brief moment from our hyperkinetic attention spans. But I suspect that “moment” will last a long time.
You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The photo of the Pope holding and kissing the head of a man ravaged by an incurable disease.
I remember another image of another Pope, John Paul II, at a meeting with then Polish Leader General Jaruzelski.
Jaruzelski was reading a prepared message while the Pope stood a few feet away, head slightly lowered, hands folded, listening intently. The camera panned downward, and the narrator had to make sure we noticed. The Polish leader’s knees were shaking.
As well they should have.
We would discover later they were shaking for good reason. We often look at the political implications, because that Pope is widely credited with helping to end Communism in his beloved Poland and many other countries. But I also wonder if the Polish leader wasn’t also quaking at the presence of God.
As well he should have.
Now, decades later, Pope Francis was the presence of God for another man. But there was no quaking, no distance in this gesture, this kiss.
One man brought the presence of God to a leader, shaking political institutions and changing the world. Another brought the presence of God to a diseased man, changing his world, and ours.
No matter your religious persuasion, that’s the power of a gesture.