Carmen Nanko-Fernández: Celebrating a Touch of the Sacred
I transferred to Catholic University at the moment of 3 popes in 3 months: the August passing of Paul VI, the September installation and passing of John Paul I, and the October election of John Paul II. In 1979, I entered the student lottery and won a ticket to witness John Paul II’s address to faculty in higher education, a particularly memorable experience for an undergrad religious studies major.
In what seems like a lifetime later, in the semester of my promotion to full professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry, I entered another lottery, as an alum, and was gifted with the rare opportunity to see up close and hear yet another Pope at my alma mater.
Following the Mass, I was walking down North Capitol Street at dusk, the only option with a reasonable expectation of getting home, when the unexpected occurred. While standing on a corner waiting to cross the street, a motorcade approached, with its distinctive Fiat 500L. Six strangers – African Americans and Latinas – we started jumping up and down, all inhibition gone, waving at the driver side tinted window, excited just to know Papa Francisco was passing by. Suddenly above the roof of the car from the passenger side a white-sleeved arm emerged and a hand waved in our direction. We had been seen by the Pope! In a flash he was gone, leaving six strangers stunned by a blessing that made us, in that moment, a community celebrating a touch of the sacred.
– Carmen Nanko-Fernández (B.A. 1980, M.A. 1984, D.Min. 1991) is a professor of Hispanic theology and ministry, Catholic Theological Union at Chicago.