Earlier this week, the novelty pope made headlines again, this time by participating in a virtual town hall with Americans three weeks before his historic visit to the United States. During the encounter he asked a young girl to sing him a song, and what she sang couldn’t have been more appropriate.
The song was a moment of triumph for Valerie Herrera, who had been bullied growing up due to her skin condition. Caught off guard when the pope said he would like to hear her sing, Valerie caught sight of her mother in the crowd and a song about the Mother of God came to Valerie’s lips.
The song was perfect.
Francis is known to have a unique love in his heart for Mary. He prays the rosary three times a day. Why does the notoriously busy Bishop of Rome find time for this ancient prayer? He says that “Mary, whose ‘yes’ opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy.”
Francis’s favorite devotion to Mary is Mary the Untier of Knots. This Mary isn’t a shrinking violet Mary. This is a Mary who is strong enough to sort out the toughest of struggles and who never shies away from a challenge. She sticks with you. She is intimately involved in the details of life. She is your go-to girl.
Francis loves Mary so deeply not because she’s different than all other women, but because Mary reveals an important truth about women in society and in the Church: they have an important role. Perhaps this explains Francis's more inclusive role of women in society.
Francis and the Catholic church have always lifted up the importance of the family, but the relationship of a mother is especially venerated by Francis, and it will continue to be important as he visits the United States in September. Francis’s first public Mass for the trip will be at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the Americas, and the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine.
Valerie may not have realized how perfect her song was, but she embodied Francis’s own words: "If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary go to the People of God who teach it better."
As Valerie sang to Francis, she sang to Mary as well.
[Allison Walter is a senior fellow at Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for the faith community located in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Saint Louis University and a native of Kansas City, Mo., she believes in the power of faith to transform society.]