October 14, 2015 — Oregon Province Jesuit Father Pat Conroy has been the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives for four years. Before Pope Francis' historic address to Congress last month, Fr. Conroy got to meet briefly with the pope and wrote the following reflection on the experience:
September 24 was a 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 House and Senate, Francis was escorted into the hall and introduced first to 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 schedule, 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, I asked him if I might bless him.
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 was the feeling of good will and spirit possessed by all those in attendance. 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 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 www.photovat.com.