First-year missioner Tom Little shares about seeing the pontiff during the recent papal visit to Bolivia. 

Last month, I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to attend the papal visit in Santa Cruz. All of Bolivia has been abuzz about Pope Francis’ visit since I arrived in January. Everywhere you turned you would see his face.

Since I heard about the visit during Formation I had been hoping to make this possible. When Sr. Jean, a Franciscan sister in charge of the on campus youth group, told me that a group of students were going and thought she could get me a ticket too, I was thrilled.

Leading up to the trip the anticipation was building, and I spent a lot of time envisioning what it would be like. Of course the actual experience was very different than I expected, but that doesn’t make me any less thankful for the wonderful opportunity to be a part of it.

During the Mass I kept waiting for some kind of wondrous, godly experience to happen and it never did. It felt like most of the Masses that I have experienced here in Bolivia – long and somewhat difficult for me to follow.

Another aspect that was different from what I expected was Pope Francis himself. With all of the press that he has received recently I expected him to be more attention grabbing when he spoke. In actuality he is an old man who moves and talks slowly.

Also his message isn’t as radical as people make it seem. Ideas like: being a church of and for the poor, not judging others, and a care for creation come directly out of the Bible and from St. Francis of Assisi. I am glad that Pope Francis embodies these ancient yet still relevant values.

The fact that this experience didn’t go as I envisioned it made it that much more impactful, because it made me explore what was going on more deeply.

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Missioner Tom Little (back, fourth from left) with high school and college student delegates from Coroico dioceses ready for Pope Francis’ visit.

I have been amazed and inspired by what I have seen from Pope Francis in the past 2+ years. I have been trying to put my finger on what it is that makes him so special: I have come to believe that it is truly the Holy Spirit.

To me the Holy Spirit is the explainer of the unexplainable. It’s the force that has kept the Church alive in the darkest of times and continues to inspire with peace, love and joy.

I think that it is fitting that the Gospel reading at the papal Mass was the feeding of the multitude. This story exemplifies the power of the Holy Spirit, it shows the amazing transformative power, especially in daunting circumstances. At the same time it shows us the Holy Spirit works to help those in need and bring people together.

I saw the Holy Spirit in action the night after the Mass, when the students that I was with helped coordinate the liturgy (music, gifts, readings, etc.) at a local parish. After the Mass the community put together a small party with some sandwiches and sodas. There was dancing, singing, and all around joy. It was beautiful to see so many people come together and share the kind of love and happiness that I saw.

This experience was a good reminder that it is the people that make up our Church, not just a select few, and the Holy Spirit reaches all of us.