by Abigail Benjamin, writer, and Kate Abbott, Catholic Voices Associate (Interview taken by phone at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2015)
Abigail: “I’m talking today with Kate Abbott, a DC resident for the past 15 years, about Pope Francis’ upcoming Papal Visit to DC from September 22, 2015 to September 24, 2015.
Kate, we can count you a true DC resident because you first came here in September 2001 as a High School Student to serve as a Congressional Page. Although you’ve lived other places occasionally for work, you’ve always considered DC your home. What is the excitement level right now among DC residents about the upcoming Pope’s visit?”
Kate: “Pope Francis is our Holy Father. Just like a good father he loves us, he cares for us and he embraces us. There is an attraction to his message. People view Pope Francis’ message as inspiring and authentic. Washingtonians are ecstatic that he will be visiting our city!”
Abigail: “DC is a city that is obsessed with popularity. Do you see the Pope’s visit as a passing fad or something that will sow more lasting seeds of change?”
Kate: The Pope’s visit is a great opportunity for Catholics and for people of goodwill. The real story is that Pope Francis is more than a spiritual leader with a few kind words. The Pope’s message is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. Pope Francis has a message of Hope and Love and God’s Mercy.
Abigail: “Were you in DC for Pope Benedict’s visit? Can you tell us about your experiences with him in April 2008?”
Kate: “During Pope Benedict’s visit I didn’t get a Mass ticket. During the days leading up to his visit, I heard that Pope Benedict would have a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House. Nearly everyone from my downtown office went to see Pope Benedict!”
Abigail: “What was your experience seeing Pope Benedict in 2008?”
Kate: The Pope had a different parade route than Pope Francis will have and many different people came out to see the Pope. I loved seeing people with Vatican flags and wish I had one too! One striking memory was of someone who was near me in the crowd, who didn’t believe in God or Jesus, they were there out of curiosity. When Pope Benedict passed by this person got tears in their eyes and said, “I was blessed by the Pope!”
Abigail: “What did you take away from that experience?”
Kate: “That encounter taught me that it’s important to have people look at us and be that inspired.”
Abigail: “Would you say that Pope Francis is enjoying greater popularity than Pope Benedict did when he visited DC?”
Kate: “Pope Francis’ actions are of humility, love and outreach. He’s authentic. This authenticity and actions inspire others including the media. Thanks to the Holy Spirit people in the media are more willing to share Pope Francis’ message. People are getting glimpses of the faith and they are interested.”
Abigail: “Would you describe Pope Francis’ appeal as ‘showing and not telling’ about Jesus?”
Kate: “When I hear Pope Francis talk he is like a Father. He says, “It’s okay. We all need God and we all need each other. I’m going to show you how. Follow me. Feel the warm embrace of God’s mercy.”
Abigail: “Our faith isn’t static, right?”
Kate: “Pope Francis challenges all of us. No matter who you are, Pope Francis challenges all of us. That is important to recognize.”
Abigail: “Do you think Pope Francis challenges us to be our best self?”
Kate: “Yes. To paraphrase Pope Francis: Be who you are and live it out fully. Be courageous! See what God is asking of you and live it out!”
Abigail: “How does the Pope’s message apply to you?”
Kate: He inspires me to be more like him in everyday life. There is that great message of the church as a field hospital.”
Abigail: “Let’s google that exact quote, that was a good one. The Pope says, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… And you have to start from the ground up.”
(from “A Big Heart Open to God,” America Magazine, Sept 19, 2013.
Kate, what does that quote mean to you?
Kate: “The church is a field hospital. I need to make sure that my wounds are healed first, and then I need to go out and help others who are in battle as well. The Church isn’t a simple hierarchy. There is a connection from Pope Francis to the Bishops to me.
I have to be concerned with myself, my family and whoever is around me. I meditated and prayed on this quotation and I saw myself in the story of the Prodigal son. I need to be looking out at the horizon and searching to bring others home too. I see myself in that story now. I have Pope Francis to thank for that.
I’ve been a lifelong Catholic, but this is a spiritual reality. We all need constant conversion. I need confession. I got the Pope’s message. Wow! I’m a part of this field hospital as well. I’m just as important as anyone else in the church because it is my role to save souls as well.”
Abigail: “What is your role during the Papal Visit, Kate?:
Kate: “My primary role is to hear the Pope’s message, to see how that applies to my life and to share that insight with others.”
Abigail: “That is something that all Americans can do, right? Even if you are far from DC and unable to attend the Papal Parade, you can attend inside your own heart, correct?”
Kate: “The Pope is here for you! He can’t shake every American’s hand. But he is here for you as an individual. When you see the Pope here in America hug someone, he is hugging you. When you see him talk with someone and looks them in the eye, he is looking you in the eye. When he looks you in the eye, that is Christ looking at you in the eye.”
Abigail: “Thank you Kate. Your thoughts about the Papal Visit are really inspiring! I wish you all the best!”