Two videos caught my attention yesterday. In one the Pope is refusing to allow pilgrims to kiss his ring as they greeted him and in the other he frees himself from the grip of a woman, after she roughly pulls him, while he was greeting children and pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
My goal here is not to criticize the Pope, he is a great man who is working hard to improve the organization he is leading, but these episodes made me think about how the traditions of these two religions may influence the behavior of their followers, when they meet their leaders or even remember the sacrifice of Christ (as I explain later).
In both of those two episodes people show reverence and respect for the Pope and what he represents. Some of them may be even looking for special blessings, because of what the Pope represents for them.
Come to mind episodes from the holy scriptures, like when Peter and John healed a man crippled since his birth (Act 3: 1-8)
or when the woman who was suffering from an issue of blood touched Jesus’ garment hoping to be cured and she actually was, by “virtue” coming out of Jesus (see Luke 8:43-48).
Signs of Devotion
In second and older video, Pope Francis rebuffs worshippers who are trying to kiss his ring. Pope Francis repeatedly pulled his hand away when worshippers attempted to kiss his papal ring at the Holy House of Loreto in Italy earlier last year. Kissing the papal ring is traditionally seen as a sign of respect for the office. The leader of the Roman Catholic church later explained that he was concerned about giving germs to the faithful who attempted to kiss his ring.
However, in many other occasions the kissing of the ring, if not encouraged, is at least tolerated.
But why do people feel the need to grab the Pope’ s hand, even when is the wrong time, or why do they routinely try to kiss his ring? I want to focus especially on the second one: the act of kissing the Pope’s ring.
According to the Catholic Herald
The custom of kissing the ring of the pope or a bishop has been a gesture of respect in the Church for longer than can be remembered, but likely started in the late Middle Ages.
Kissing the pope’s ring “expresses devotion not to the person of the pope, but to whom and what he represents: the successor of the fisherman of Galilee” and “indicates fidelity and love for the Church.”
While the commonly-used Italian term for the greeting is “baciamano,” literally meaning “hand kiss,” … properly speaking, it is the papal Ring of the Fisherman which is kissed.
It is customary to kiss the ring of a bishop, out of reverence for his dignity as a successor of the apostles, and the hand of a priest, as it has been anointed with chrism to consecrate the Body of Christ.
An Experience From My Youth
This explanation and the video bring back to my mind something that happened to me in my youth, when I was still a catholic, living in Italy, long before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One day, while participating in a “Good Friday Celebration” I saw most of my friends go and kiss a cross that was placed in the center of the church. I thought for a while about doing the same, but then I felt that it wasn’t something I wanted to do, and perhaps not even something that I should do. It was actually one of those important moments in my youth when I had the courage to think for myself, and pay attention to my feeling and then act based on what I thought was right, instead of following the pressure of the traditions and of those around me.
Thanks to several experiences like this one, I gradually developed the courage to look for something beyond my native catholic faith, something that would fulfill my spiritual needs more completely.
Latter-day Saints don’t kiss crosses or rings to show reverence
While we are taught to respect other people’s beliefs, we are also expected to share what we stand for and what we ourselves believe. This is part of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.
As Latter-day Saints we don’t kiss crosses or even a Prophet’s ring. This is because while we believe that Jesus died on a cross, and we also believe that the Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true successor of Peter, the Apostle of old, we believe that there is no need for those external acts, especially because they may actually misdirect our faith, from the Savior to a piece of wood or of metal.
The Catholic News Agency explains that
adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ’s cross does not mean that we actually adore the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to our Lord’s cross as the instrument of our salvation.
I think I understand what they mean, but as I felt long ago in a catholic church, while for many good people it may feel appropriate to kiss a ring or a cross to show reverence and respect, I believe that there are better ways of showing our devotion and respect to the Lord and to His servants. We will not be ultimately judged by the kissing or not kissing of a ring or a cross, or for losing our patience once in a while, but for how well our lives followed the teaching of the Savior.