“We’ve taken up too much of your time,” Grassi says in Spanish. “No, by God, thanks for coming by,” the pope replies.
A Vatican spokesperson confirmed that the meeting took place.
“Mr. Yayo Grassi, a former Argentine student of Pope Francis, who had already met other times in the past with the Pope, asked to present his mother and several friends to the Pope during the Pope’s stay in Washington, DC,” the Rev. Thomas Rosica, an English-language spokesman for the Vatican, said in a statement. “As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue.”
He met the future pope while he was in high school in his native Argentine city, Santa Fe. In 1964 and 1965 Jorge Bergoglio taught Argentine literature and psychology at Inmaculada Concepción. Grassi said the pope instructed him to contact someone else about arranging the meeting in the U.S.
Grassi began working for D.C. catering groups in the 1980s, became director of catering at the National Gallery of Art in 2001, and launched his own catering business in 2005, according to his Web site.
A lawyer for Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, waited until this week to reveal that she had met with Francis. The meeting, which was reluctantly confirmed by the Vatican, renewed the U.S. fascination over what this pope stands for. The Vatican on Friday put out a statement that appeared to downgrade the significance of the visit with Davis, saying it should “not be considered a form of support” of the Kentucky clerk’s “position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”
Since the revelation that Davis met with Francis, church insiders have been furiously swapping rumors about who exactly set up the meeting, which U.S. bishops knew of it, who was happy about it and who was upset.
On Friday, the Vatican said Davis was among “a number of guests” who were “invited by the Nuncio,” a church term for the ambassador, to greet the pope. “Very brief greetings,” Rosica told the Associated Press. “And in the pope’s characteristic kindness and warmth and hospitality, he shook people’s hands and gave them rosaries. We should understand it as that. In terms of why this person was invited, you have to ask those questions of the nunciature.”
“The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family,” Rosica said.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has endeared himself to the LGBT community by meeting with a transgender man in Italy and, when asked about gay priests two years ago, answering, “Who am I to judge?” Francis’s inclusiveness has been the thing that most fuels his huge popularity, but it’s been at a distance, in Rome. When he actually came to the United States and people saw his actions and words, every moment has been analyzed to the hilt.
“Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us,” said Christopher J. Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. “The news that Francis met with a gay couple should put to rest any notion that Pope Francis is held down by the narrow ideological divisions that plague the United States. He is first and foremost a pastor who is willing to encounter and engage anyone.”
In 2010, when Francis was a cardinal in Argentina, Grassi read media reports that his former teacher had condemned the legalization of same-sex marriage. So he sent a long e-mail to the cardinal expressing his disappointment, and the cardinal responded that his words had been cherry-picked and twisted, and that the reported sentiment was not true, according to Grassi.
He wrote that e-mail “with all the respect of the world,” Grassi said. “I stood firm on my position and I ended the e-mail saying ‘Don’t think it was easy for me to write this e-mail but I had to do it, and I think it was the right thing to do because 40 years ago you taught me I had to do it.’ He wrote back to me telling me, first of all, how sorry he was that he had hurt my feelings, that he had hurt me. One of the things he said on that e-mail was that ‘I want you to know that in my work there is absolutely no place for homophobia.’ And I think that’s what I want people to know.”