Close encounters with Pope Francis

My family has a lousy history of encounters with celebrities. My brother Tobey was minding his own business standing on a sidewalk in front of Yankee Stadium. Phil Rizzuto, the diminutive Yankee shortstop and broadcaster, nearly ran over him when he jumped the curb with his car. “Move it, kid!” a cop yelled at my brother.

Famed New York newspaper writer Jimmy Breslin pilloried my Old Man as the anonymous creep from the bank in his annual column listing people who had offended him. The Old Man had tried to collect on Breslin’s car loan.

On a shuttle bus to the airport terminal, my brother Al noticed that Cal Ripken Jr., star of the Baltimore Orioles, was sitting right across from him. The All-Star game was in that city that night, so my wise-guy brother said to Ripken, “Going to the game tonight?” Ripken ignored him.

Unlike either my innocent brother or wise-guy brother, or my workman-like Old Man, my encounters with celebrities have been awestruck and tongue-tied. I always feel like an idiot immediately thereafter.

I inadvertently blocked a door to the ageless Dick Clark, though he was kind enough to just say, “Excuse me.” As I moved to let him through I said, “Thank you,” when I realized who it was. Which should have been his line, not mine.

Then there was the time that I got on an elevator and Rollie Fingers, the Hall of Fame relief pitcher with the handlebar mustache, was there. “What floor?” he asked, as he went to push a button for me. “Oh, any one will do,” I answered, trying to be nonchalant. Thirty years later I still grimace over that one.

I thought of all this the other day when the story broke about Pope Francis picking up the telephone and calling people out of the blue. The pontiff might be reading a letter someone has sent and, touched by it, will pick up the phone and call the person.

“That’s the way I am. For me, it’s much easier to call, to ask about the problem and suggest a solution, if there is one,” Msgr. Dario Vigano, director of the Vatican Television Center, quoted Pope Francis in a Catholic News Service story.

Among others, according to reports, the pope has called a young man distressed by family tragedies and a single woman struggling with her pregnancy.

There is some concern that this could lead to a string of hoax calls — people pretending to be the pope and saying something outrageous or dropping a political bombshell.

But there is little belief that Pope Francis will not continue this unique papal pastoral ministry. When media made a big deal out of the discovery, Pope Francis told Msgr. Vigano, “Good thing they don’t know about all the ones I have made!”

Just like every one of you reading this now, I wonder what I’d do if the pope called me. Most of you are probably worried that you would say something silly because you would first think that it was a prank call. Not me.

I remember when “Rudy” had opened and was a big hit, the biopic of Rudy Ruettiger, the now-famous Notre Dame football walk-on.

I got a call from Rudy a few days after the movie opened. Before he could say a word, I gushed for at least two minutes about how much I was touched by the story, how I had been on campus at Notre Dame for the shooting of the stadium scenes, how my kids had gone to Holy Cross just as he had, before he finally interrupted me to say, “I ain’t that Rudy.” The guy was selling advertising spots.

I figure that if the Holy Father ever did call me, it would be pretty straightforward, just like the cop once shouted at my brother. “Move it!” he’d say.

And I’d move it. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.