Francis, Yogi & Joe

| October 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

The pope came to America, Yogi Berra died, and the vice president went on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert.”

Three different persons.

Three different professions.

One common characteristic.

One common faith.

Pope Francis’ state visit became the greatest week in the history of the Catholic Church in America.

Catholicism has had a really bad run, scandal after scandal, pedophile case after pedophile case in diocese after diocese, resulting in more than 2,000 civil lawsuits and millions and millions paid out because of damage done to fragile humans; the image of the church scarred, greatly – and, in the minds of some, scarred eternally.

Into this environment came Francis to transform the moment; the one man capable, by the remarkable power of his person, by his transcendent decency and grace, by his love and acceptance of all, to move us past self and toward community.

A great thing has been done; done for a church in need of renewal and revival

And all of us, Catholic or not, Christian or not, believer or not, are the beneficiaries of Francis’ coming to America; because we need the Catholic Church to be strong, as its ministry to the poor and those down and out, to the homeless and dispossessed, to people on the margins of society and out of government aide; men, women and children with no other place to turn, having slipped through society’s safety net, lost and alone, but finding refuge and help within the Catholic Church.

We know the Catholic Church is a flawed institution, as are all human institutions, but unlike all other others, it has survived for more than 2,000 years.

There is a reason for that; reasons best witnessed in Francis.

What a gift to our country and our world.

He was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 1936 and ordained a priest in 1969. He became Cardinal Bergoglio in 2001 and Pope Francis in 2013.

Francis sees his calling as one of service to others and in this he’s extraordinarily gifted in his ability to touch people, to raise them up, to cause them to believe they matter.

Which brings me to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, who passed recently at age 90.

He’s in baseball’s Hall of Fame and is widely considered the second best catcher in the game’s history (after Johnny Bench).

In his career with the New York Yankees Berra was an All-Star 18 times and MVP of the American League three times. He played in 14 World Series, with the Yankees’ winning 10 of those fall classics.

In his personal life he was married to Carmen Short Berra for 65 years and they had three children, two of whom played professional sports – Dale with the Pittsburg Pirates and Tim with the Baltimore Colts.

One day at their home in Montclair, New Jersey, Carmen Berra asked her husband, “Yogi, you were born in St. Louis, played ball in New York, and we live in New Jersey. When you die, where do you want to be buried?”

Yogi answered, “Surprise me.”

At a party one night in Manhattan, Mary Lindsay, wife of the mayor of New York, told Yogi, “You look nice.” Yogi responded, “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”

There are many, many, “Yogism’s,” as they are called, including, “I never said most of the things I said,” “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and perhaps his most famous, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Former presidential speechwriter and author Curt Smith and I are of one mind, believing that Yogi Berra is the most quoted man in American history; that neither Presidents’ Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy and Franklin), Kennedy, nor Reagan, has been more quoted than Yogi.

By profession, Yogi Berra was a baseball player, and he will be remembered for that, but many people will remember him as a lovely soul who always had time for others. His kindness to strangers is legendary in Montclair, and the director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, says no visitor ever left without a greeting from Yogi.

And now, to complete my trinity comes Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., the Vice President of the United States.

The night he appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert was riveting television, as the vice president shared his pain on the loss of his son, Beau.

Colbert, who lost his father and three brothers, understood Biden’s trauma, and the two of them created one of the most memorable moments ever on network television.

This was real life they were talking about, real pain, real hurt, there were no political “talking points,” this was about a father’s loss; not the vice president’s loss but a father’s loss.

And in it were memories, terrible memories, searing memories, of when senator-elect Joe Biden lost his wife and daughter and nearly his two sons in a pre-Christmas automobile crash in 1972, and now, with Colbert and a “Late Night” audience listening, the vice president revealing, no doubt many witnessing for the first time, his true, authentic self (there is no other).

But for those of us who know him, as I have for 41 years, the Biden with Colbert is who he is – uncomplicated but with a complicated life story, one of great tragedy but also of great triumph.

So what is the nexus of Francis, Yogi and Joe?

They shared a common Christian faith, out of which came their common humanity and their common love of others – and a willingness to demonstrate that transcendent characteristic and virtue everyday of their lives.

I am ever amazed at how so many people don’t get it; at their failure to understand what the Holy Father and the Hall of Famer and the Vice President of the United States, know to the core of their souls – it is about People.

Their Christian faith teaches that in this world, to be loved you must love in return.

If only more people in exalted public places understood that, how different our world would be.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,

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