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By Fr Dr Santhosh Sebastian Cheruvally

3/14/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

His language is understandable because its terminologies are not lexical jargon but reveal the sigh of the suffering and the breath of the struggling world.

Within a short span of papacy of just one year, this man from the periphery has proven to be a man of surprises for a troubled Church and a turbulent world. His convictions, his styles, his teachings and his actions have become both a surprise and a scandal in the direction of calling for a change of perception, much more than that a repentant attention to the matters of personal life, Church and World.


By Fr Dr Santhosh Sebastian Cheruvally

Catholic Online (

3/14/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: Pope Francis, anniversary, Fr Dr Santhosh Sebastian Cheruvally, periphery

ALLAHABAD, India (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis is completing one year of papacy. I feel that it would not be superficial or hypocritical sycophancy if I try to draw a couple of parallel between Pope Francis and Jesus of Nazareth. 

It is not to add any divine appellations to Francis, of being an incarnation or something like which we find among the self-acclaimed god-men/women of today in some cultures. Rather, it is to understand his person and message. Jesus of Nazareth is a man of scandal and surprise as regards his personal essence, mission and action.


He is a man of surprise. People thought and think how can God incarnate be born in a manger? How can he eat and speak like us? How can he act in favor of the poor and the sinners? How can he submit himself to a brutal sacrificial death? How can he be born in a rural background and grow up in a frugal carpenter's family? How can he forgive and save the humanity?

In comparison to the hitherto followed standards and customs surrounding the successor of Peter, and like the man of Nazareth, Pope Francis is a man from the peripheries and of the peripheries. By lineage and nobility, by tradition and culture, by continental identity and ambitious influences, he is an unknown figure who came from a suffering and poverty ridden third world, or a sub world, called Latin America. 

Within a short span of his papacy, of just one year, this man from the periphery has proven to be a man of surprises for a troubled Church and a turbulent world. His convictions, his styles, his teachings and his actions have become both a surprise and a scandal to many. He is calling us in the direction of a change of perception, much more than a repentant attention to the matters of personal life, Church and World, he is calling us to the peripheries.

Hence, in our attempt to understand Francis' person and message, as the leader and the servant of the Catholic Church, to consider his person/personality is of prime importance. Unlike many others who change their actions and convictions according to the power and office when conferred, Francis has brought his person/personality into the office and power to act upon and to change.

This is the key, I suppose, to decoding Francis as Pope. He has not denied or done away with his personality. Personality permeates his papacy. A personality which is formed deeply out of living faith and an encounter, an experience of Jesus Christ. A personality rooted in mercy and compassion. A personality formed out of experiences of troubled relations and personal failures. A personality carved out of poverty and rejecting the marginalization of any people.

His is a personality molded  out of saying no to compromises and comfort seeking life style, too often typical of institutionalism and ideology. His stirring, direct language and compassionate and inclusive gestures are reflections of his personality rooted in a profound Christian experience. He is a pastor at home with the "smell of the sheep" in their pastures.

The conclave to elect a Pope one year ago did not have the usual ambiance of a requiem Mass and grief for a departed pontiff. Rather the conclave had an atmosphere of anxiety and questions marks regarding the very fate of the institutional Church which received an unexpected jolt from the most courageous decision by Pope Benedict XVI to leave in peace and to leave for good.

A leadership vacuum and an apparent moral bankruptcy, aggravated by scandals both inside at the headquarters, as well as issues shaking the structures at different particular churches, called for the hardest optimism in order for any candidate to be at ease with the situation.

Beating all the media predictions and stories of sources and intrigues, we heard a name Bergoglio as a bespectacled man glancing at the crowd in the dark and said, "bless me and pray for me" instead of the customary words of a new Pontiff.

People sensed immediately something new in him and in his style, so too in his nationality and background and name. They mutually blessed and prayed for each other. Everybody retired to rest with a sense of joy and not without questions still remaining as to how he will direct the course of action.

Although a Jesuit, he did not choose a high sounding Ignatius for his name or for that matter any of the great name of his predecessors. He went instead for Francis of Assisi- the poor man of Christ. Francis was often identified as the poor Christ- so too is Pope Francis. Like Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis is a man for whom Jesus Christ has become the ground of his existence.

Like Francis of Assisi, he has a living faith and an ever renewing love for the Church while showing an angelic openness to nature, birds and animals. Finally, like Francis, Pope Francis is a man of dialogue, even to welcoming the apparent hostile diversity of some persons and systems.

At a personal and magisterial level, Francis has embarked upon helping the Church rediscover the merciful love and compassionate face of Christ as one of the cores of his vision and mission. As God embraces the world with its sin and imperfection compassionately in Christ, Francis has challenged the Church to embrace one another with mercy and compassion.


In other words, it is the rediscovery of the richness of Jesus Christ who became poor and servant for our sake. Hence it also puts a challenging question to the institutional and security syndrome seeking mindset within the Church. It calls us to break out and go forth in courage and humility, in mercy and hope, and to reach and preach the merciful love of God to those in the periphery.

Hence it means a lifestyle and a value system which gives priority over availability than appointment, to embrace rather than to judgement, to serve not dictate and rule. It is true many cannot easily digest this rediscovery of simplicity. But all can understand in the light of this rediscovery of the Church and her mission, somethings which were perhaps missing badly!

Within one year, it has created echoes within the echelons of the Church - both internally and externally- whether by way of the eight cardinals council arriving at reforms at Vatican or the religious procurators (economos) forced to discuss the use and accumulation of their wealth in the light of their charism.

Or even Bishops, priests, deacons and laity coming to know each other better through pastoral visits and initiatives. Or, as a concrete example, the third largest Bishops' conference of the world, that of India, sharing an open air dinner with the beggars and destitutes at Pala, Kerala - overcoming caste and economic considerations with true Christian humility and charity.

For the world, Francis' papacy has shown another kind of rethinking- a good example is the prayer for Syria to avert international military action and to arrive at peace rising above the cultural and religious prejudices and selfish interests. Equally he has drawn the attention of the world to pay respect to the human dignity of the marginalized poor, which seems to be an apparent side effect of an economic tyranny which looks at its own self-interest.

Dialogue, peace and justice, with space open to God and to the other, despite the religious or national divides, brings into focus the appeal of Francis to the world. In the matter of Ukraine crisis too, Pope Francis is asking the world community to feel the power of dialogue and justice, and to arrive at peace. In the daily international struggles, his visit to and encouragement given to the refugees and their pain, he is also asking governments to redefine their policies towards the reality of migration, human trafficking and poverty.

Finally, it is interesting that everyone, sinner or saint, poor or rich, atheist or believer has an access to this Pope. His language and gesture are more accommodating than discriminating. His language is understandable because its terminologies are not lexical jargon but reveal the sigh of the suffering and the breath of the struggling world. He stands for regeneration and hope and has struck a natural chord with the youth of the world as well as with those of every other section of society - and of other cultures and world religions.


Fr Dr Santhosh Sebastian Cheruvally is a priest of the diocese of Gorakhpur in North India is professor of dogmatics at St Joseph's Regional Seminary, Allahabad, India and author of Jesus Christ: Quest and Context of Abhishiktananda. He engages himself with the media through occasional freelance writing and interviews.


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Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

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