In Morelia, Mexico today, an over-exhuberent onlooker entered into a physical confrontation with His Holiness Pope Francis. According to a Reuters news report, the incident occurred when the individual member of a crowd was over-anxious in reaching out to the Holy Father, who then inadvertently began to fall upon a chald in a wheelchair.
The Pontiff is well-known for his being accessible to those who have come to greet him, whether he is in St. Peter’s Square or in the Vidigal favela in Rio de Janeiro, the beach at Ipanema. In the streets of Manhattan or Philadelphia, or anywhere else, his mission is to go where the people go and to be among them, joyfully.
On this occasion, unfortunately, there was someting more that an abundance of enthusiasm, which caused a situation that was unsafe, as the reporters at Reuters describe here, as well:
As the person “pulled on him so hard that he fell onto a child on a wheel chair.” It is very clear in the video footage that as he was walking within the stadium itself, along the edge of the crowd, and he had paused to greet children who were seated, while others were standing behind them:
“Two arms reached out to grab him and the person would not let go, even after the pope lost his balance and his chest was pressing on the child’s head.
Aides and security men stopped the pope from falling to the ground. After he returned to an upright position, his face turned angry. He looked at the person, raised his voice and said twice in Spanish: “Don’t be selfish!”
Pope Francis then spoke up for the dignity of all human beings, as he took advantage of the moment to admonish the person, since he or she had evidently allowed themselves to have been carried away — having lost a sense of the boundaries that human beings respect for one another, no matter what one may be experiencing, in a public place.
It is understood that when one is in public there are individual responsibilities that all civilized persons maintain; and as the Pontiff rightly explains, to do otherwise is a very grave matter, irrespective of whether one has any deliberate intention to do harm. It crosses the line, since it is each individual’s own responsibility to be respectful of every other person’s “personal space.”
Presumably, though, the Holy Father cares as much for the offender, (whether that disregard for the rights of others was inadvertent or not); just as he cares for the child who may have suffered some pain, perhaps fear, or any other discomfort. It is precisely that prospective harm to the child – and perhaps some harm to himself – that had allowed Pope Francis to act in a ‘fatherly’ way, no less a morally-certain way, toward this individual who, with good reason, may take this admonition to heart in the way that it was meant to be conveyed: as a very serious matter.