You may have already seen a beautiful video being circulated on the internet at the moment. It’s of a little Italian boy, Emanuele, around seven or eight years old, who’s from a housing estate on the outskirts of Rome.
The Pope is visiting his parish and the young boy wants to ask him a question.
But when it is his turn, in front of everyone, microphone on, cameras rolling, Emanuele hesitates. “Go on, go on” Pope Francis encourages, but Emanuele is overwhelmed. He begins to panic, he breathes heavily. “I can’t do it…” he whispers.
It would have probably been easier at that point to move the little boy quietly back to his seat.
The kid doesn’t want to ask the question. Fair enough, let him be. Don’t push him. Just bring another child to the mic. That’s the usual attitude, at least from what I’ve seen.
In Rome, they seem to apply some tough love. Young Emanuele wasn’t going to be escorted back to his seat straight away. The papal aide was at his side, offering words of encouragement, directing him back to the microphone, but by now, little Emanuele was sobbing, his tiny hands covering both his eyes.
Poor kid, I thought. There is no way he’s going to ask that question now.
Of course, Pope Francis, always one for surprises, had a Plan B. “Come to me, Emanuele, and whisper in my ear”.
If you watch the video, you will see at this point Emanuele totally freezes. It’s like he’s got glue on his feet. But with a few gentle pushes by the Papal aide and a final tug up the stairs, young Emanuele is on stage, face to face with the Holy Father.
Immediately they embrace, and the boy collapses into the Pope’s arms, presses his head against his shoulder and weeps.
After a while, the pair begin to speak quietly with one another, their foreheads touching. It’s a tender and emotional scene, and if you’re watching it via video, I bet you’re crying.
The symbolism of the Good Shepherd. Never giving up on that one little sheep who had so badly wanted to run away.
Soon the boy gets up, turns around and leaves the stage. You can see something about him has changed. He’s no longer stooping, there’s a confidence in his step. He’s still crying, but it’s different tears, tears of relief and grace.
The crowd at this stage is cheering for Emanuele and crying with him.
Sometimes people say: Where is the Holy Spirit in our world today? I can tell you something. The Spirit was right there. And the Bishop of Rome, responsible for teaching, governing and sanctifying the faithful, had taught us all, in the most beautiful way possible.
Don’t give up on people. Don’t just send them back to their chair if they hesitate. Find another way. Give a little push if you must. Lead them to Christ and let them encounter His abundant love and mercy.
See, if we’d done what was easiest, and just sent the boy back to his chair, he would have spent who knows who long, being tormented by the one question his heart yearned to know… “Is my Dad in heaven?”
See, little Emanuel’s father had died, and he wasn’t a believer. Although he was a good man, and even had his four children baptised, he didn’t actually believe. For little Emanuele, it was a thought that plagued him. Would disbelief disqualify his dad from eternal life? Pope Francis’ answer, first shared quietly with the boy and later relayed to the crowd, was simple and perfect.
“The one who says who goes to Heaven is God. (But God has) A Father’s heart. God has a Dad’s heart. And with a Dad who was not a believer, but who baptised his children…do you think that God would be able to leave him far from himself? Does God abandon his children? Does God abandon his children when they are good?
“There Emanuele. That is the answer. God was surely proud of your father because it is easier as a believer to baptise your children than to baptise them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much. Talk to your dad. Pray to your dad”.
In my mind, the whole encounter was a witness to divine love, the Holy Spirit at work. A little taste of heaven in the forgotten outskirts of Rome, relayed to the world via video for all to see.
Young Emanuele, thank you for whispering that question into il Papa’s ear, even though you were petrified. Papal aide, thanks for giving the little boy that extra push and pull to get to stage.
And Holy Father, thank you for your invitation “Come to me, Emanuele”, which echoes that beautiful hymn we sing at Advent and Christmas. You can indeed Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuele. God is with us. And he’s with your Dad too.
Here’s the video: