ROME – A delegation from the Archdiocese of Baltimore presented Pope Francis a custom-made Ravens jersey signed by Coach John Harbaugh, a Catholic, and quarterback Lamar Jackson during a Dec. 3 audience at the Vatican. They also gave the Holy Father a “spiritual bouquet,” a book produced by the Archdiocese of Baltimore that contains prayers and greetings from people across the archdiocese in celebration of the pope’s upcoming 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination Dec. 13.
Archbishop William E. Lori accompanied seminarians from the Archdiocese of Baltimore in presenting the gifts, with Deacon Justin Gough giving the smiling pontiff the jersey emblazoned with Jackson’s number 8 and the name “FRANCIS.”
Archbishop Lori, Bishop Adam J. Parker and Bishop Denis J. Madden are in Rome this week, along with bishops from the surrounding region (DC, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia and the Military Archdiocese) for the “Ad Limina” visit.
Bishops from around the world visit the Vatican every few years to deliver detailed reports about their dioceses to the pope. The bishops met with the pope for nearly three hours Dec. 3, discussing a wide range of issues including the clergy sexual abuse crisis and bishops’ accountability.
Archbishop Lori shared with the Holy Father the diversity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, describing its strengths and needs. He also received the pope’s blessing on the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School that is being built in Baltimore City.
“We have a shepherd in Pope Francis who wants to know us and who certainly loves us and certainly cares about us,” Archbishop Lori said.
Archbishop Lori said the pope always asks for prayers. In presenting the spiritual bouquet, Archbishop Lori told him the people of the archdiocese are praying for him and “here’s how we’re doing it.”
The archbishop added that the pope gave the Ravens’ jersey a “thumbs-up.”
A video report from Archbishop Lori follows. Story continues below.
In a Dec. 4 press conference in Baltimore, Harbaugh noted that Archdiocese of Baltimore holds the distinction of being the founding Catholic diocese in the United States. He called it “great” that the pope received a Ravens jersey.
“We’ll see if he’s wearing his jersey anytime soon,” Harbaugh told reporters.
The Ravens coach noted that his brother, Jim Harbaugh, a former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, met the pope several years ago.
Archbishop Lori asked Deacon Gough, who is in his fourth year studying theology at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, to assist with the presentation of the jersey to the pope, who is more comfortable with Italian and Spanish than with English.
It was the second time Deacon Gough had a chance to meet Pope Francis, the first being when he served for the pope at a Mass while Deacon Gough was in second year of seminary training. “It’s always nerve-wracking to meet the Holy Father, but when you’re the only one who’s doing something out of the ordinary, you just add a little suspense to it, he said.
The pope is an incredibly gracious person, Deacon Gough said, “and his eyes just lit up as soon as I stepped forward and showed him the jersey.” He explained that the team is named the Ravens and noted they play “fútbol Americano” – American football – as opposed to soccer, which is commonly known in Europe and South American as simply “fútbol.”
“He had a great big smile on his face and he said in Italian, ‘That’s great,’ and gave us a big thumbs up,” Deacon Gough said. “It was so nice to bring something that is so near and dear to our city and to our identity as Baltimoreans and to bring that to the Holy Father and to then be unified by his prayers” with the bishops and seminarians present.
In a letter to Pope Francis published in the spiritual bouquet given to the pope, Archbishop Lori said the people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore “give thanks that throughout the 50 years of your own priesthood, you have shown us what it means to accompany others and bring God’s mercy to the ‘peripheries.”
“A priest’s ministry is not about glorifying himself,” the archbishop wrote. “It must be focused on glorifying God and serving others.”
Archbishop Lori said the people of the archdiocese “take seriously your call to encounter people wherever they are and in whatever circumstances they find themselves.”
The 38-page spiritual bouquet includes messages from priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful reflecting on the ways they evangelize, welcome the stranger, build a culture of inclusion, promote the sanctity of all life, protect creation, share God’s mercy and cultivate holy priests.
Father James Boric, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, wrote in his message to the pope that the Holy Father’s call for priests to get out of their offices and be with their “sheep” inspired him to start an urban missionary program through which two young men minister to the marginalized on the streets of Baltimore.
Mary E. Cox of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City told the pope she left the church 40 years ago because of a culture of “exclusion and judgement,” but returned because of the pope’s example.
Mary V. Tamplin of St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park was among many who said they pray for the pope daily and members of the Bonardi family at St. Alphonsus Rodriquez in Woodstock said they try “to emulate you by sharing the love and gifts God has given to us with others who are less fortunate.
Contributing to this report were Christopher Gunty in Rome and George Matysek in Baltimore.
To read the entire spiritual bouquet, click here.
UPDATE: This story was updated at 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 to add comments from Archbishop Lori. It was again updated at 4 p.m. to include the video message and 5:02 p.m. to include Deacon Gough’s comments.