The Behind the Scene Stories of The Pope Kisser
I hope Jeff Thompson himself will someday publish what really lead up to the now famous photo below, but for now I will shed some light on the very generous heart of Mr. Thompson and the miracles that happened that day behind the scenes. I have changed the name of the family involved as I have not yet asked for their permission to post this online.
Here is what happened and some background to help you understand the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit behind the photo.
Jeff Thompson has always been one of the most beloved teachers at the Heights. To say he has a gift in teaching would actually be an understatement. My sons would come home and tell us over dinner about Mr. Thompson’s amazing stories or his “awesome jokes” but I really did not believe them until I “sat in” on one of his classes. It was pure perfection: if all teachers could teach like Mr. Thompson. He had the right mix of stories, jokes, questions, didactic. Someone should actually study him (& Mr. Cox) to see how they are so effective in helping their students live the material they want them to remember and appreciate.
Jeff has a B.S. from Southern New Hampshire University, where he lettered as a four-year full scholarship member of the men’s basketball team. In the past Jeff has worked closely with the Tourette’s Syndrome Association for a deeply personal reason which we all love him even more for. Jeff has a heart of gold and would give his life for any of the students and all parents know this.
So when a Heights mother called Mr. Thompson for a favor a few days before the Pope was to arrive, Jeff of course offered to help in anyway he could. The Height’s mom had 3 months earlier received the tragic news that her oldest son, who had graduated from the Heights years earlier, graduated college, married with a young child & with another baby on the way, died in his sleep. The whole family was truly devastated. He was a great young man and a great spouse, father, brother, and son. His younger brother Chris, currently a Junior at the Heights, was not able to sleep after hearing the horrible news and continued not to sleep for 3 months. Thus their mom asked Mr. Thompson to take Chris with him when he went to see the Pope and she asked Mr. Thompson to give the Pope a picture of her deceased son for him to bless.
Mr. Thompson says that when he heard this he said, “sure, ok.” But what he was thinking was, “yeah, sure, and let’s go to lunch on the moon tomorrow.” But with faith he took on the challenge and prayed. And so did Chris and his mom.
Thus Mr. Thompson took a bunch of boys to stand in front of the papal nuncio standing for hours to potentially get a glimpse of the pope. Coincidentally a wonderful young 9th grader named Javier who spoke Spanish tagged along at the last minute. Chris asked Javier to teach him how to say, “Holy Father this is a photo of my brother who died 3 months ago. Will you bless him?” Chris practiced and practiced with Javier for hours praying to have the change to say this to the Pope and show him the photo of his deceased brother his mother had entrusted to him.
When the Pope left his the papal nuncio he headed straight to the Heights group. It is said the reason he went there first was because the boys all had a jacket and tie, which is standard uniform at the Heights and that they were the only ones who were not holding cell phones & taking selfies.
Either way, it happened so fast on the video clip I hope to post below soon. But in real time is seemed to go in slow motion, Mr. Thompson seemed to say.
The pope thus started shaking hands and in a split second Mr. Thompson have him a super quick kiss but it was captured miraculously by a great photographer (see below). Mr. Thompson then introduced Chris to the Pope. In the drama of meeting the pope, Chris forgot how to say his lines in Spanish. Quickly little Javier jumped in and started speaking quickly in Spanish, saying, “Holy Father, this is Chris. His brother died 3 months ago and their family is suffering greatly. This is a photo of him.” [You can see the Pope touch Javier’s face as if to say, “you tender angel speaking to me in my native tongue so I can understand fully this important message this young man has.” And he motioned for Chris to give the Pope the photo.
With all the photographers and all the important people waiting to meet with the pope, primarily President Obama, one would think that the Pope would give a quick blessing and move on.
But in a true testament to Pope Francis’s faith, love, and tenderness, he stopped, looked at Chris in the eye, and asked, “What was his name?” He told the Pope his brother’s name and the Pope gave a blessing over the photo. Chris began to cry and cry feeling the weight of grief lifted off his shoulders. In the video you can see Mr. Thompson hugging Chris and the tears running down Chris’s astonished faith. It was truly miraculous.
As a small aside, the photographer you took the photo turned up a couple of days later at the Height’s Annual Garden Party unaware of the viral photo she produced or all the details mentioned above or that her photo had made Mr. Thompson go down in history: her full story is below.
Mr. Thompson is a blessed man in so many ways. We are all so happy for him and rejoice in his blessings and the potential mission God has now given him: to spread cheerfulness and joy, no matter what life throws at you, to everyone around the world.
Potomac Teacher Kisses Pope Francis in Photo Seen Around the World
The Heights School teacher Jeff Thompson was photographed giving the pope a kiss on the head in image that was seen far and wide
BY AARON KRAUT
Published: 2015.09.25 07:09
The Heights School teacher Jeff Thompson kisses Pope Francis Wednesday morning in a photo shared by websites and newspapers around the world. By Molly Riley, via AFP/Getty Images
Jeff Thompson said he didn’t plan to plant a kiss on the side of Pope Francis’ head as His Holiness walked by Wednesday morning.
“The emotions overcame me,” said Thompson, a religious teacher at The Heights School, a Potomac Catholic school.
“My intention was just to tell him, ‘Welcome to America. We love you,’” Thompson said. “What better way to do that than to give him a kiss?”
The moment, captured by photographer Molly Riley and distributed by news agencyAgence France-Press and partner Getty Images, made Thompson’s face famous worldwide.
The caption didn’t include Thompson’s name, but family members and friends quickly recognized him and began sending him word of how far the photo spread.
The kiss appeared on the front page of the Huffington Post website, in The Washington Post, in newspapers in Spain, Portugal and Nicaragua and even on a local newscast in Manchester, New Hampshire, near where Thompson played college basketball for Southern New Hampshire University.
By the end of the day, Thompson had gone viral. At back-to-school night Thursday at The Heights School, he was being treated like a rock star.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Thompson said. “My gosh, what an opportunity.”
The Bethesda native has taught at The Heights School since 2002. The grades three to 12 all-boys school was given 10 tickets to greet Pope Francis outside the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States before the pope made his way to the White House.
With nine students in tow, Thompson waited to get a glimpse.
He said kids all around him were screaming as the pope walked by. As Pope Francis was about five feet away, Thompson said he began speaking the little Spanish he knows. The pope responded in English, “Please pray for me.”
Thompson said he responded, “Siempre, siempre,” meaning, “Always, always.”
That’s when Pope Francis approached Thompson and Thompson stretched out his arms for a hug. Thompson said it felt right to add on a kiss.
Some of the pope’s bodyguards approached Thompson as the hug happened. One of the bodyguards can be seen reaching toward Thompson in the photo. Thompson said the man told him to step back, but let him go once it was clear he wasn’t a threat.
“I said to a little kid next to me, ‘That was very cool,’” Thompson remembered. “The kid said, ‘Yeah, look at all those snipers on the roof looking at you.’”
As was the case with students and teachers at many area Catholic schools, the pope’s visit to Washington, D.C., earlier this week was cause for a major celebration.
Thompson, who lives in Reston, said he watched the pope’s entire visit closely, including his speech to Congress and departure to New York City.
“I’ve got a great memory, that’s for sure,” Thompson said.