Pope Francis’s arrival on the international scene didn’t come about without a few glitches. For instance, when he warned in a recent interview that “small minded rules” could cause “the moral edifice of the Church . . . to fall like a house of cards,” his remarks were trumpeted by major media outlets around the world as a push for more politically correct positions on trendy issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Just days later, however, the pontiff had this to say to members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Gynecologists, who were attending a conference at the Vatican: “Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.” You probably didn’t see that startlingly fresh way of expressing Catholic teaching on abortion in your local newspaper or hear about it on the evening news. That’s because it didn’t get the kind of global media attention the pope’s interviews, which the Washington Post described as “spontaneous” and “free-wheeling,” have received (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/conservative-catholics-question-pope-franciss-approach/2013/10/12/21d7f484-2cf4-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html).
Nor did it make headlines when Francis recently brought his personal touch to a local tug of war over abortion. An Italian woman, Anna Romano, felt an urgent need last summer to correspond with the new pontiff due to the anxiety she felt about her own situation. According to a Sept. 6 story that appeared on the Religion News Service website (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/06/fpope-francis-the-cold-call-pope-reaches-out-and-touches-a-lot-of-people/ ) Ms. Romano had become pregnant after a tryst with the man she believed to be her fiance. But when her lover—announcing he was already married and had a family of his own—pressured her to have an abortion, she left him and sought counsel from the Catholic Church’s new shepherd, who, since his election, had been personally reaching out to members of his global flock.
In July, the RNS story reports, Ms. Romano sent a letter addressed to “Holy Father Pope Francis, Vatican City, Rome,” in which she explained her dilemma. He responded to her on Sept. 3, using his cell phone—a practice that has “earned him the nickname ‘the cold-call pope.’” (Among others, the pope has recently called a woman who was raped and a student worried about not finding a job.)
“Hello, Anna,” he said when Ms. Romano answered her phone, “this is Pope Francis.”
“I was petrified,” the 35-year-old told Rome’s daily newspaper, Il Messaggero. “I recognized his voice and I knew right away that it really was the pope.” After telling him she felt “betrayed” and “humiliated” by her experience, the pope “reassured me,” she said, “telling me that the baby was a gift from God, a sign of Providence. He told me I would not be left alone.”
It was as if she were speaking with “a dear, old friend,” Ms. Romano went on. And when she expressed concerns about finding a priest who would consent to baptize her baby—she is divorced and a single mother-to-be—Pope Francis assured her a willing pastor could be found. “But if not,” he is reported to have said, “you know there’s always me.”
“Though she doesn’t know whether she will have a girl or a boy,” the RNS story finished up, “Romano told the newspaper she thinks it’s a boy, and it’s clear what she will name him: ‘Francis.’”