The familiar phrase, "Seventy is the sum of our years or 80 if we are strong" from Psalm 90 echoes in my head as a look at the life-size standing cardboard Pope Francis in a corner in my office. Many campus folks know I have the cardboard pope, and he gets borrowed frequently. Most recently a group of undergraduates borrowed him for a display in conjunction with a food hunger survey they were doing. "Having Pope Francis there will really attract attention so for sure we'll get good participation," an enthusiastic event chairman tells me. "We'll take good care of him and I'll bring him back in two weeks."
The last time students borrowed him it was a rainy day, so I covered him in a long-folded Maid-of-the-Mist plastic poncho that I had kept after enjoying a tourist stint at Niagara Falls years ago. The poncho came in handy. Cardboard doesn't like to be caught in the rain, and I didn't want the pope to fall apart because of carelessness.
Sure enough, in two weeks cardboard Pope Francis was back in my office just as promised. While I often keep him folded up in the closet, I decided to leave him on display right where the students had placed him. There's something comforting in having him there. I look up from my desk into his kindly persona and think that all is well with him at the helm of the Catholic church.
So the psalmist's phrase comes to mind as I look at the image and recall that March 13, 2017, marks his fourth anniversary as pope — and that on his most recent birthday (December), he turned 80. What are most people in the world doing who make it to age 80? Surely not taking responsibility for 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Surely not maintaining a tireless schedule of daily appointments. Surely not traveling around the globe on working trips.
To me, Pope Francis exudes an eagerness that jumps out of his cardboard image. I think his secret is that he has achieved alignment of all spheres — spiritual, mental, physical, social — so that he remains true to himself. His 80-plus years fulfill the psalmist's opinion that he is strong.
[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati.]