There are moments or happenings in one’s life which become pivotal moments. Life changing events, moments of illumination, when you realize something important that will change the course of events to come. You know. Like when you hike up a mountain and are struck with the beauty of the earth below, glide across a vast desert made stunning with undulating dunes, or stand at the edge of a cliff and are bewitched by the magnitude of the globe. Like when you work at something you love and time elapses so fast the whole sequence becomes just one thread weaving into another. A moment when you just meet someone for the first time and watch his smile open up hearts, and it feels perfect.
I had (among many) one such significant moment. I met Pope Francis on his pastoral trip to Armenia in June. I was privileged not just to meet him but to be serving in his presence during breakfast and dinner while he stayed in Holy Etchmiadzin. (I was part of a team that accompanied Rubina Begoumian of Robert’s Catering who was chosen to oversee the catering for delegates and tend to the meals of the Pope and his immediate entourage.)
I met a man of God. A man whose expressions of love, kindness and faith restore hope.
He walks into the kitchen to greet us all, to take our hands one by one with no exception. His eyes rest on each individual. First, the housekeeper at the kitchen sink, then the chef, the caterer, the assistant, the waiter, my hand. He thrives on personal contact, and he spends part of the morning before breakfast greeting us in the kitchen. He thanks us for our service spreading that same smile that has travelled the world over.
There is a simplicity about him. He asks for nothing opulent or too decorative. He likes toast and jam for breakfast. As I stand to wait at his table of twelve, I look at him while he talks. He speaks—quietly at first, though with steady voice…almost prophetic. He laughs. He listens. He looks so ordinary.
He is friend to the people, but he is also a solitary man retreated in thought and prayer. “He wakes up around 4:30 am,” I was told by one of the Fathers. He prays. He prays with the psalms; he celebrates Mass; he prays the Rosary; he prays in adoration. He prays in the evening; he prays after dinner. I catch a glimpse of an evening prayer. He drops slowly to his knees thinking of himself less while seeking His glory, His righteousness. He is cloaked in humility.
Christians, clergy, lay people, blue collar workers, rich folk, poor folk, children, youth and old gather the pathways of Etchmiadzin to catch a glimpse of the Pope, to be moved by the simplest of his gestures — a wave, a smile, a benediction, a touch — as he makes his way through to the open air altar. There is something astounding in his obvious humility, empathy and above all, devotion. He seeks the meek, he speaks out strong, he leads, confirming once more that Christianity is based on principles of charity and compassion, forgoing “a culture of prosperity.” A humble reminder that we should all live not for the things of this life but for the rewards of eternity. To be men and women of God.
Perhaps I am envious. I want my church, our church, the Armenian Apostolic Church to make a lasting difference in people’s lives—to be, as the Pope often put it, “a hospital on a battlefield, taking in all who were wounded, regardless of which side they fought on.” I want the focus of our churches to be on the dispossessed; to wander the city’s worst neighborhoods, talk to AIDS patients, sit on park benches and hear confessions from prostitutes, heal wounds, be courageous, give alms to the poor, feed the hungry, advocate for human rights, be inclusive, speak the truth in love, speak out in the midst of sin, to not lose touch with realities in life, connect with simplicities, be vigilant against pride, to fear God not man.