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Pope Francis Liberal orthodox

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Perhaps there has never been a world leader like him in the recent past. Respected and loved by all, his accolades have been many. During his first year as pope, the 77-year-old Pope Francis- nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize-claimed the title of Time Magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year. He graced the cover of Rolling Stone and accumulated a combined Twitter following of over 12 million and growing while also being named as the most influential twitter user in the world.

Next week when the Pope arrives in Sri Lanka for his first visit, it is at a time where the Catholic Church is at its most popular worldwide, which can be said is a complete turnaround from its tumultuous recent past. It cannot be denied that the change has come about solely due to Pope Francis, his ideals, simplicity, personality and most importantly his humanity.

Humble beginnings
Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrants Mario Jose Bergoglio and Regina María Sívori. While his father worked tirelessly as a railway worker, his mother was a home maker devoting her life to their five children.
His upbringing gives us many clues as to his simplicity. Any great man’s life and work reflects his childhood. The Bergoglio family had a modest existence, but it is said that buying new clothes was considered as being lavish, and the family never owned a car. The family was by not any means poor, but they were unassuming upper-working-class Italians who considered themselves very fortunate to have made the life they had in Argentina. It is also said wastage of food was never tolerated in the Bergoglio home and Regina who was an excellent cook taught Jorge how to cook many Italian dishes. This perhaps explains him preparing his meals even after being appointed as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The family was keen to assimilate and did not mix exclusively with other Italians. Also the Bergoglios did not believe in snubbing the poor and resenting the less fortunate as was common during the time. It was here, in 1940s Buenos Aires, seeing emaciated children go hungry while richer people in furs scorned them for their lowliness that the future Pope began to abhor snobbery.

What strikes most people today about the Pope is despite being the leader and ‘Shepherd of the Catholic Church is how much he is like anyone of us as a child, a youth and an adult. Like many he was fond of ‘normal’ things like sports and still is an avid fan of San Lorenzo Foot Ball Club. He enjoys music and by his own admission loved dancing the Tango with his girlfriend. Like many of us he loved and lost. The only difference was that unlike some, he was able to find God.

At the age of 21 Jorge joined the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. According to the Pope he admired its “missionary spirit, community and discipline,” even though he was himself not very disciplined. “I later came to appreciate Jesuits’ open-mindedness and willingness to see God in all things, great and small” Francis had once said.

Jesuit Pope
Just as his childhood influenced his personality it was perhaps joining the Jesuits that further shaped the Pope Francis known to the world today. It can be said that the key to understanding Pope Francis are in fact his Jesuit roots. Pope Francis is widely accepted as the quintessential Jesuit. This influence continues to shape almost everything he does as the Pope. Like a true Jesuit who does not believe in power and positions he has defied the norms and formalities right from the very beginning.
“My people are poor and I am one of them” the Pope once said while refusing grand papal regalia and instead opting for a plain white cassock and iron pectoral cross rather than a gold one commonly worn by his predecessors when he was chosen as the pontiff.

Choosing Francis as his papal name in remembrance of St Francis of Assisi, who fought for the less fortunate, was a message to the world that the Pope had chosen the poor and helpless. He has even called for a ‘poor’ catholic church to be closer to the people. Ever since his attainment of priesthood, Pope Francis has continuously and tirelessly worked for the well-being of the poor, which he claims as his foremost concern.

While today’s world leaders mainly focus on wars, international security and economy, Pope Francis is perhaps one of the very few who has remembered the poor and downtrodden, thus attracting many to his cause. While not limiting himself to just words he sets an example to all through actions by washing the feet of prisoners, embracing the sick and poor. “Be humble” is the message he gives the world.

Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. Refusing to be behind bullet proof shields and unapproachable to the people, the Pope Francis showed the true meaning of the phrase Holy Father while following in Jesus’ footsteps, acting like a proud father rather than a distant public figure when he allowed a child to come up to him and hug him on stage at the Vatican. Not allowing the child to be taken away Francis sat him on his chair and continued his sermon as nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Sometimes drawing criticism the Pope has even given hope to Atheists through his sermons, and has called for priests to baptize babies of unwed mothers. “Hypocrites” he called those who refused. He has even refused to pass judgment on homosexuals saying “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society”.

However while he has appeared different a mistake must not be made in thinking that the Pope has moved away from Catholic values. Despite appearing liberal Pope Francis continues to value and protect Catholic ways and beliefs. He is pro-life and was a campaigner against abortion. He is seen as “unwaveringly orthodox” on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. He also opposes euthanasia calling it “A Killing”.

While re-affirming the catholic faith and its doctrines, the difference in Pope Francis is that he has refused to judge people, instead making statements that spread the message of love, tolerance and peace.  He has been unafraid to criticize the Catholic Church, governments and while giving importance to women. In an age of greed and power Pope Francis reminds us to be human thus earning him the love and respect of believers and non-believers alike.

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