Pope Francis certainly seems more of a pope of the people than his predecessors, said Wayne Madden, who with his wife, Linda, may be the only residents of northeast Indiana so far to have met the pontiff.
The Maddens, who live in Auburn, met Francis in early May at the Vatican during Wayne's term as president of the International Association of Lions Clubs, he said Thursday.
Madden, a member of the Auburn Lions Club since 1984 and an insurance agent and certified insurance counselor, was elected international Lions president during the organization's international convention in June 2012 in Busan, Korea.
He completed his one-year term and now is chairman of the Lions Clubs International Foundation.
Wayne believes the visit with the pope was scheduled before Pope Emeritus Benedict resigned as pope, effective Feb. 28, saying he didn't have the strength to continue in that job.
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, was elected pope March 13 by cardinals — the second highest-ranking Catholic clergy after the pope — during voting at the Vatican in Rome.
Francis currently is on his first international trip in Brazil, where he renewed his call for Catholics to shun materialism and to reach out to the poor and marginalized in society. On Thursday, he opened the Catholic Church's World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Meetings between the pope and Lions Clubs' international president have been arranged each year by Lions Clubs in Italy, said Madden, who is a member of the United Methodist faith.
Lions Clubs make a donation annually to a charitable organization within the Vatican, Madden said. This year, it was $10,000.
Lions Clubs also try to get their international president out to visit leaders of countries around the world, he said. The nonprofit service organization has more than 1.35 million members in more than 46,000 clubs in 206 countries, it says on the organization's website, www.lionsclubs.org.
The pope not only is worldwide leader of the Catholic faith, Madden said, but also the head of the Vatican city state, which is considered an independent country within Italy.
As in other areas of his papacy, Francis appears to be taking a different approach than previous popes to meeting visiting officials.
Rather than meet inside a Vatican building, Madden said, they were scheduled to speak with Francis immediately after his outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.
On the day of their visit, Madden, his wife and other Lions Clubs officials arrived about one hour before the Mass. They were supposed to go to the front row of people in front of the altar, which had been set up below the balcony where popes usually make appearances. The crowd was estimated at about 120,000 to 130,000 people.
“All of a sudden, right down the middle of St. Peter's Square, came the Popemobile,” Madden said.
The secure vehicle, with Francis aboard, made it about three-fourths of the way to the altar before it stopped. Francis got out and walked the rest of the way, greeting people as he went, Madden said.
“He certainly appears to be a pope of the people,” he said.
After the Mass, Francis immediately came down from the altar to the front row to greet visiting cardinals and church officials, Madden said. Then the pope came over and started down the front row to greet other visitors, shaking hands and speaking briefly with each as he went.
“We only got to spend 3-4 minutes, maybe 5 minutes, with the pope,” Madden said. They talked briefly about Lions Clubs' donation to the Catholic charitable organization, a Lions reading program and the group's efforts to prevent and cure blindness.
“My wife's comment was, 'He has very soft hands.'”
Francis spoke with him in English, Madden said. The pope also spoke with Italian Lions Clubs members accompanying Madden, and those conversations seemed to be in Italian.
Then the pope moved on, continuing to greet each person in the row.