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Pope Francis Moves Believers And Skeptics Alike

Scott Simon's mother's rosary
Jun Tsuboike
Scott Simon's mother's rosary

I covered a papal trip to the United States years ago, and my mother made sure my pockets were packed with mass cards, medallions and her rosary.

I found that a lot of reporters, even those who could be hilariously cynical about religion, were similarly overstuffed. We used to have discussions on the press bus about how close you had to be to the pope for all the religious bric-a-brac in our pockets to actually absorb his blessing. Could a pontiff's spiritual powers reach the very back rows of a huge outdoor Mass? Could a blessing be delivered over radio or television? And could a medallion or mass card be truly blessed, even by a pope, if it was carried in the pocket of a skeptic?

I began to unpack what I'd carried in my pockets when I got home and put my mother's rosary on a desk. It was dusk; and I noticed the rosary begin to glow.

I felt and even heard my knees begin to shake. My throat and eyes filled. I heard myself say, out loud, so God and my own ears could hear it, "Please forgive me for ever having been a skeptic."

Then I thought for a moment, and called my mother. "Is there something I should know about that rosary you gave me?"

"I keep it on my nightstand," she said. "It glows in the dark."

Pope Francis is a popular man. You see it not only in opinion polls, but the light of the eyes of people who see and reach out to him. You don't need to agree with what the pope says about what he sees as the sanctity of life, threats to the Earth's climate, homelessness, family, or immigration to feel his open heart.

We're used to political arguments, and calls for someone to do something. Pope Francis cites examples, not arguments, and calls for people to look inside themselves.

He made a point with a single phrase just by calling himself "a child of immigrants."

But perhaps the pope's most eloquent moment was almost wordless: he left the halls of the U.S. Congress to have lunch with people in a homeless shelter. He spoke his truth to power, then broke bread with the powerless, and told them, "Buen appetito."

Our oldest daughter got to see Pope Francis at the U.S. Capitol this week. In her pockets, she carried some of her grandmother's mass cards, medallions, and a rosary she made for herself. She showed us that rosary at home, after she saw Francis. And I'm sure it glowed.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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