National Geographic : 2015 Aug
58 national geographic • August 2015 What renewed Grassi’s reverence for his former teacher is precisely what today rivets throngs in St. Peter’s Square and is sure to do so on his September visit to the United States: the blinding whiteness of his papal attire reimagined as an accessible simplicity. It is the porteño’s af- finity for the street fused with the Jesuit’s belief in vigorous engagement with the community—el encuentro, the encounter, which involves both seeking out and listening, a decidedly more ar- duous undertaking than the impersonal laying down of edicts. For it requires the courage of humility. It is what prompted Bergoglio to drop to his knees and ask for the prayers of thousands of evangelical Christians. It is what caused his eyes to flood with tears when he visited a Bue- nos Aires shantytown where a man declared had taken Grassi’s words to heart. The Cath- olic Church’s position on the subject of mar- riage was what it was. Still, it pained Bergoglio to know that he had upset his student. Grassi’s former maestrillo assured him that the media had badly misconstrued his position. Above all, said the future pope in his reply, in his pastoral work, there was no place for homophobia. The exchange offers a glimpse into what one should, and should not, expect from his papacy. In the end, Bergoglio did not disavow his stance against gay marriage, which, as he wrote in one of those letters, he views as a threat to “the iden- tity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children.” None of the dozens of friends I interviewed believed that Francis would reas- sess the church’s stance on this matter.