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October 3, 2013 , Dr. James Kottoor


Words move, example draws. Hence also the saying: Like the ruler, so the ruled; like the pastor, so the flock. Authority is not for lording it over, but to serve, according to Jesus who washed the feet even of the least among us — a betraying Judas, denying Peter and doubting Thomas. He has also asked his followers to follow his example.


Like St. Francis Jorge Mario Bergoglio is trying to be like Jesus in word and deed. So what does he really mean when he says:  “I am a sinner”, not once but twice in the same breath? What compelling message does he transmit to his fellow bishops and to the whole world at large? In popular parlance Popes are addressed: “Your Holiness” and referred to as “His Holiness”.  By describing himself: “I am a Sinner” is Francis totally rubbishing that title and rejecting the present practice? Is he just telling the whole world to kindly stop calling him “Your Holiness” forthwith?


In fact in my previous writings I myself have been accusingly critical of the present practice on rational grounds and equated it to “blasphemy pure and simple since God alone deserves such references, not any creature.” I have no way of knowing  if my observations ever reached papal ears and if he was responding to my comments  by calling himself “a sinner” which could be his way of saying: “I’m sorry for the present practice approved and accepted by previous Popes”. In fact I had  gone one step further saying that Church officials starting from the top should be called “Mr. Pope, Mr. Cardinal, Mr. Bishop, Mr. Priest etc” even as Barak  Obama, the most powerful ruler in the world, is called “Mr. President”, to highlight  equality of all humans irrespective of the office one holds for the time being.


Call me just “Tu” not “Lai”

It seems Pope Francis has accepted even this suggestion in practice. Proof?  Francis phoned up personally Stefano Cabizza, a 19-year-old engineering student in Padua and Michele Ferri, the 14-year-old brother of a gas station operator in Pesaro, Italy, who had been killed during a robbery. The first had attended Pope’s Mass on Aug.15th at Castle Gandolfo and had left a personal letter for the Pope. The second wrote to Pope while going through the agony of the murder of his brother. In both instances Francis endeared himself to the youngsters through a heartfelt touching telephone conversation in which he   insistently asked the youngsters to address him in the familiar singular “Tu” and not “Lei” in Italian (You and not Your Excellency) because reportedly, he had asked them jokingly, “Do you think the apostles called Jesus Lei, or ‘Your Excellency’?” In so doing was he not telling the world, he abhors being called with imperial titles? Even otherwise won’t it be double-speak   and tragic comedy at its worst, to allow oneself to be called “His Holiness” and “Servant of servants” in the same breath?


But the larger question in all these is how his episcopal colleagues around the world to whom the Bishop of Rome is sending this unmistakable message of humility and self-emptying would be responding? Will they respond to it as a counsel which could be ignored with little consequences, or as a command to be followed in letter and spirit? When Good Pope John XXIII presented Bishops at the Vatican II Council with wooden Pectoral Crosses, most of them sported it only for weeks and then went back to their love for gold. In similar fashion Pope Francis expressed his angst recently about “Air-port Bishops” busy with their merry go round the globe  to attend international conferences, inaugurate pious festivals and even bless posh weddings. He pointed to the theological roots which should   force them to stay put absorbed all time with the pressing problems of their dioceses to which they are literally wedded. So the tantalising BIG question is: How good is compelling good example, as a substitute for commanding orders in a legalistic society satisfied with the minimum compliance with the letter of the law, not its spirit, a society caught in the rat race for power which corrupts, and absolute power which corrupts absolutely?

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