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You have challenged the Bishops and the Priests to “smell of the sheep”, to be true Pastors to the flock

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
Wow Pope Francis! You complete four years tomorrow as our Pope! What a simply amazing period it has been for the Church, for the world, for millions of your admirers, for the Society and well, also for me! You have been able to touch all, in such fascinating yet deeply spiritual ways. You have been instrumental in bringing about the much-needed renewal; you have set the course for a new pilgrimage of trust with God! Your words are inspirational; your deeds are exemplary- motivating us all to do much more.
Wow Pope Francis! Four years ago when a friend called me from faraway , in the middle of the night, to tell me that it was a Jesuit who was elected Pope, my immediate response was “Impossible! A Jesuit cannot become a Pope!” A few minutes later, as I browsed the internet, I realized I was very wrong; above all, I felt also elated! Ever since, the joy of being a Jesuit has only deepened. You do not try to hide the fact that you are a Jesuit. I too take genuine pride (not arrogance!) that a brother- Jesuit is the Pope today!
Wow Pope Francis! Our Jesuit magazine, ‘America’, has put out a fantastic video clipping highlighting “Pope Francis' top ten moments” to celebrate your fourth anniversary. No one can indeed quarrel with those chosen moments! Personally I vibe with that selection. But I also have a problem: in these past four years there tens of hundreds of “Pope Francis’ Moments”. Putting the spotlight on just ten must have been a herculean task. However, we need those special moments to remind us what Christianity is all about!
Wow Pope Francis! From Lampedusa to Lesbos and until today, you have not stopped focusing on the plight of the refugees, the displaced, the migrants, the homeless and the others excluded from society. You have asked the Parishes in Europe to take in at least one family. You have set us concrete examples to reinforce your position... Your constant reminder is,“how can we not see the face of the Lord in the face of the millions of exiles, refugees, and displaced persons who are fleeing in desperation from the horror of war, persecution and dictatorship?”
Wow Pope Francis! In ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ you want us to return in very tangible ways to living ‘the joy of the Gospel’ You very aptly describe the reality which strangles us today , “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades”. Besides, you also provide us with a blueprint to grow out of that reality. To truly manifest the joy of the Gospels
Wow Pope Francis! Then came ‘Laudato Si’, those warm yet innocuous words of your hero Francis of Assisi. Many of us applauded! It feels and is good to ‘Praise God’ for the whole of creation. It is convenient and non-threatening to grow trees, have nice lawns and to propagate alternative technologies. You go much beyond the cosmetics! Some have rubbished your connection between consumerism and climatic change. Most of us are afraid, to address endemic issues and to do much more, as you dare us, to truly care for our common home.
Wow Pope Francis! For some, it is a real ‘scandal’, to see the Pope bowing low and washing the feet of Women, Muslims, Refugees, Prisoners and Excluded. An act unthinkable some years ago; still unacceptable in some quarters. Nevertheless, what an example of extraordinary Christian humility! These very touching gestures have certainly helped in breaking some stereotypes and patriarchal mindsets, which has been our bane. You have communicated to us the feminine face of God- by gradually providing a more rightful and deserving place to women in the Church.
Wow Pope Francis! You have paid very special attention to the importance of family life. You have provided an environment for all to reflect on the ‘family’. In ‘Amoris Laetitia’ you say it plainly” “I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. You are ray of hope to the broken, to the lonely, to the rejected.
Wow Pope Francis! In your speech to the US Congress, you said, “here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often-innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade. ‘You have never hesitated in taking on the powerful and vested interests. You want them to build bridges and not walls.
Wow Pope Francis! You gave to us the ‘Jubilee Year of Mercy’. You set the tone in the very early days of your Papacy, “Who am I to judge?” a question took the world by storm ‘Mercy’ is an attitude, which we need to put into practice. You have prayed that “ let every Church and Christian community be a place of mercy amid so much indifference”. You call us all to renewal “Let us be renewed by God's mercy ... and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish”.
Wow Pope Francis! What an amazing four years you have given to the Church and to world. You have challenged the Bishops and Priests to “smell of the sheep” – to be true Pastors to the flock. You have provided all with a way of proceeding to live our discipleship in a more committed and relevant way.Ah! Naturally, you have your share of opposition, denigration and difficulties. In a world which is desperately starved of servant-leadership you have shown us all what it means to be a shepherd with great Compassion, unbridled Courage and deep Conviction!
Thank you Pope Francis for being a WOW Pope! And for WOW-ing us! We thank God for giving you to us as our Pope! We celebrate you today! Above all, we pray that our Lord may protect you and keep you in our midst for many more years as our Shepherd on earth!
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*Indian human rights activist, currently working among refugees in the Middle East

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