I Don’t Want to Go Back to The Way It Was Before Pope Francis Visited America

I don’t really know where to start. 

Pope Francis has had a dramatic impact on my life this past week. It’s almost hard to put into words.

I got into journalism long ago because I wanted to tell stories that inspired people. Stories that moved people. I’ve covered a lot of big events in my career, interviewed a lot of people, but covering Pope Francis’ visit to America has got to be the highlight.

No, I didn’t get to interview him. I didn’t even get to meet him, but it didn’t actually matter because his words met my heart and ignited my spirit. I felt them deep in my soul. Every sermon, every speech moved me further, moved me deeper. Some I’ve read and reread 10 times. His presence and his words at the 9/11 memorial brought me to tears.

[Watch all of Maria’s NBC reporting on the Papal Visit]

The NBC studio in which I sat was silent. Everyone was transfixed as he spoke about pain, the power of love and remembrance. I listened to the prayer of St. Francis and the Beatitudes. I watched as leaders of so many different faiths stood up beside him and spoke their truths. And I reflected about how I was living my own life and I thought about all the people in it and I thought about their lives.

When the Pope spoke to the Congress about the Golden Rule I thought about that message and how I was living it. When he urged us to all go out and be of service like Mary had been, I took an internal inventory. In fact, this whole week made me take a internal inventory of everything in my life.

It made me reassess power, success, joy, money. I thought about the culture of care and the culture of waste. I thought deeply about those on the margins that this Pope urges us to reach out to.

He pushes us to open our eyes and our hearts to our neighbors that live so close, yet also so far away. He urged us to enable real men and real women to escape from extreme poverty. He said we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny.

“Dignified agents of ones destiny.”

I love that. Each of us have the ability to be dignified agents of our own destiny. 

[Read essay’s on faith from Melinda Gates, Deepak Chopra, Pema Chödrön and more]

The Pope pushed us to realize that we are all sharing a common home. One that we must care for, respect, love, and honor. He said all of this and more, so much more. I feel in love with this man. With the way he spoke, with the wisdom he shared, with the gentle — but strong and clear — way he asked each of us for more.

I believe deeply that the world is yearning to be good, to be better and do better than we currently are. I believe in the goodness of people. I believe in their kindness. I saw it everywhere I went this week following this Pope. I believe everyone felt he was speaking to them and so they felt validated, felt, seen. Everyone felt understood. It was healing.

We all share a common desire to be understood, to be loved, to be accepted, to be treated like we matter. You don’t have to meet a great leader to be transformed by them. A great leader ignites your heart. A great leader makes you want to be a better person. A great leader reaches out, listens, feels your pain and works to make it bearable.

“Pray for me,” Pope Francis said to people he met along his way and then he said “To those who don’t believe, I hope you wish me well.”

I hope that we all dig down and find the strength to wish each other well. It’s so simple. It’s so profound. It’s so Pope Francis.

[Read all of Maria’s ‘I’ve Been Thinking essays here]

In Philadelphia, Pope Francis told the story of Pennsylvania native Saint Katharine Drexel going to Pope Leo XIII, telling him the challenges of her community and the Pope said to her: “What about you? What are you going to do?” The question made her think about her own contribution to the church and changed her life.

“What about you?” resonates with me as I look onward. What about you? What can we all do to foster what the Pope has been saying. What can we do to make our communities better, kinder, more compassionate and caring? What can we each do to foster our common home?

I hope that we don’t go back to talking to each other in belittling ways. I hope we make this visit matter. I hope we let it transform us for the better. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before Pope Francis came to America. I know I can’t go back. I know I’m going forward differently because of him.

I pray for this man. I wish him well and I thank him. Thank him for leading with humility, with simplicity, with empathy, with love.

I’ll be praying for him and praying for you. Please also pray for me. Amen. #PassItForward.

[Image via Pixabay]

About the Author

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Maria Shriver is a mother of four, a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, a six-time New York Times best-selling author, and an NBC News Special Anchor covering the shifting roles, emerging power and evolving needs of women in modern life. Since 2009, Shriver has produced a groundbreaking series of Shriver Reports that chronicle and explore seismic shifts in the American culture and society affecting women today. Shriver was California’s First Lady from 2003 to 2010 and, during that time, she spearheaded what became the nation's premier forum for women, The Women's Conference. Shriver's work is driven by her belief that all of us have the ability to be what she calls Architects of Change -- people who see a problem in their own life or the community around them, then step out of their comfort zone and do what it takes to create the solution. Like her page on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.

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