Can the pope’s visit make a difference? Until today, I didn’t think so (COMMENTARY)

Print More
Thousands watch Pope Francis on the screen during a simulcast at the Sunbowl Stadium  in El Paso, Texas, February 17, 2016.  Pope Francis visited the once notorious Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Wednesday, a major migrant crossing on the U.S. doorstep where grisly drug violence has killed thousands, to pray for those who risk their lives migrating north.  Photo courtesy REUTERS/Dan Dalstra

Thousands watch Pope Francis on the screen during a simulcast at the Sunbowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas, February 17, 2016. Pope Francis visited the once notorious Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Wednesday, a major migrant crossing on the U.S. doorstep where grisly drug violence has killed thousands, to pray for those who risk their lives migrating north. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Dan Dalstra

EL PASO, Texas (RNS) At this moment, Pope Francis is just across the border from me in sprawling Juarez, Mexico. He is delivering a message that, regardless of one’s own faith or other belief system, appeals to our higher, better instincts.

Significantly, he brought his first visit of the day to the infamous Cereso prison. He told the men and women that they are not forgotten, and that they should focus on the future, starting anew.

As tears streamed down the faces of supposedly hardened men and women, I in my comfortable living room, watching on TV, wept with them, and for them.

The pope’s message is not an eloquent, structured one that advances the artistic use of Spanish or any other language. Perhaps you have heard the message before, back long ago in school or from parents and other relatives. Are there messages more important than those we try to teach children? The golden rule … tolerance … forgiving those you think have hurt you … providing food and shelter to the less fortunate.

Local TV coverage brought up a persistent question: Can a visit and some words by even such a person as the pope make a difference?


RELATED STORY: In Juarez, pope slams hell faced by migrants, blasts ‘slave driver’ capitalists 


I think many of us accept that the hardened hearts of some may be beyond change. But then again, to millions of people, that is not true.

The pope spoke of repentance to the prisoners, urging them to begin again this day, and put their misdeeds behind them.

So, again, we face the question of whether his visit can make a difference. 

I don’t see how anyone watching this — even one rejecting religion — could fail to see the value of his words of hope and encouragement.

What are we here for? What is our value?

When was the last time I pondered: Am I doing anything to improve the world? Am I greedy? Am I complacent in the face of starvation and homelessness?

I am not saying that to preach or to point an accusing finger. Those are my personal questions, the words that fall heavy on my own heart.

Jim Conley is a retired night city editor for the El Paso Times. Photo courtesy of Jim Conley

Jim Conley is a retired night city editor for the El Paso Times. Photo courtesy of Jim Conley

Hearts! The pope asked the people to have open hearts. You can’t help but wonder what would happen if millions of us could just open our hearts even an “inch wider.”

When I was a frightened child, that’s all I wanted in my bedroom door at night — for it to be open an inch wider. 

More than enough to give me all the peace and comfort I needed.

Until today I didn’t care whether or not the pope came. 

Now I, though not a Catholic, am very glad.

(Jim Conley is a retired night city editor for the El Paso Times)