Sometimes I'm reminded of the pope when I visit our city lake in central Alabama.
There, another being -- although not of the human ilk -- also shares a connection to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals (and the environment).
In this case, Francis is a big, strapping gander that came by the name after becoming hopelessly entangled in fishing line left behind by some irresponsible angler.
For weeks, we tried to capture Francis. However, trying to contain any waterfowl with wings is like trying to capture a dinosaur in heat. As soon as you get close, it flies off.
Nor was Francis one of our regulars. He and his group flew in intermittently, whenever the mood struck, I guess, for cracked corn. That meant we couldn't orchestrate a rescue because we never knew when -- or even if -- Francis would show.
Desperate, I prayed to St. Francis.
Now I'm asking the pope to address the broader issue of fishing-line entrapment -- and its often tragic circumstances -- on a global scale.
Every summer, thousands of waterfowl suffer a similar plight when the world's recreational anglers are out in full force, littering the planet with the discarded remnants of their trade.
Monofilament -- a line used for fishing -- lurks along the edges of lakes and rivers, often unseen. Geese and ducks find it streaming from their wings. Herons are found dangling from trees, the line caught on limbs. Rehabilitators who must deal with the grim consequences estimate such entanglements lead to the deaths of thousands of birds, as well as the amputation of limbs of many others.
In this case, the fishing line continued its deadly path. Initially it was bunched around one leg. Then it wrapped itself around the other leg as well with -- mind you -- a connecting line between. It was almost as if it had a mind of its own (like the spit in the memorable Jerry Seinfeld episode).
By now, one leg was hiked under a wing, immovable (see photo).
If the line wasn't removed -- and soon -- Francis would die.
Instead, he disappeared. When his group flew in, he was no longer with them. I braced myself. He was either dead or trapped somewhere.
And then it happened.
I was placing cracked corn around the shoreline one evening when a huge group of geese flew in, and one of them landed at my feet with a great thud.
It was Francis. He wanted corn. He looked frazzled but he was still alive.
I also saw that the line was now so taut around both legs that he couldn't move fast enough to get the running start needed for flight. It was now or never.
And as fate -- or maybe St. Francis -- would have it, two friends were jogging by.
I waved them over and motioned to them to grab his wings and hold them down.
Then I whipped out a pair of cuticle scissors I keep in my car for just such emergencies and began removing the line, messaging the limbs as I did so to try to restore circulation.
The line was so embedded in one leg that I had to pull it out bit by bit.
Even then, I wasn't sure I got it all but 15 minutes later, Francis was free. The look on his face was priceless as he stood and realized the terrible encumbrance was gone.
For a few days, I monitored his progress. I've seen some miraculous recoveries in the wild and I hoped Francis would be another. The water therapy worked its magic, slowly loosening the muscles in the affected leg.
A week later, I saw him grazing the cemetery on both legs.
"Don't you look fabulous?" I said, delighted.
His plight got me to thinking. What if I could get the pope on board?
Pope Francis is always reminding us of the need to care about nature and the planet.
What if he took that message one step further and asked the anglers of the world to stop leaving fishing line and hooks around? What a blessing that would be.
Think of the wildlife that would be spared slow, agonizing deaths, not to mention the benefits to our waterways and shorelines.
And it would be so effortless. All the pope would have to do is to slip it into a sermon every now and then -- or tack it on after Sunday Mass. "Oh, by the way, don't forget about the fishing line..."
The message is also in line with the pope's recent environmental encyclical, in which he warns of harming birds. While fishing line may not be on a par with industrial pollution, the cause is the same: environmental indifference. Getting anglers to stop leaving it around would be a huge step forward.
So how does one get a message to the pope? I don't know a soul at the Vatican but I'm hoping someone out there with a little spiritual clout might help. Maybe a priest from midtown Manhattan's Church of Saint Francis or the Jesuits could make it happen. Maybe someone in the church hierarchy or at a Catholic newspaper or a convent. There must be someone out there who could get this message to the pope.
That said, maybe the pope could also squeeze in a visit with his avian namesake during his trip to the U.S. in September. That could be arranged.
I suspect such a message would also please the venerated saint. I don't know if Canada geese were around in the 12th century but I think St. Francis, who was said to preach to the birds, would have liked the handsome gander with the barely visible limp that now answers to his name.