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Happy Birthday to a pope of compassion

Pope Francis turns 82 on December 17 and is just three months shy of completing the sixth year of his pontificate. He has strenuously advocated the virtues of mercy and compassion—in fact it has become the slogan of his papacy. His apostolic visit to the Philippines in 2015 was on the theme: Mercy and Compassion. 
 
He followed up by declaring 2016 the great Jubilee of the Year of Mercy. By opening wide the doors of the Church to welcome all those seeking God’s mercy, he appealed to the Catholic world not only to open the doors of churches, but also to open up their own hearts in forgiveness and mercy. 
 
In his first book-length interview, The Name of God is Mercy, the pope described himself as a “man in need of God’s mercy.” His fascination for the mercy of God is always on display in all his apostolic exhortations. Misericordiae Vultus was his Papal Bull, proclaiming the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. 
 
To conclude the Year of Mercy, he penned yet another apostolic letter titled, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Peace), where Pope Francis said “the Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life.” 
 
He did not stop with mere exhortations the mercy of God being pivotal to Christian witness, he also provided some practical guidelines. He established the 33rd Sunday of the Liturgical Year as the World Day of the Poor, inviting people to care for the needy and the poor.
 
Visiting the prisoners, accepting the refugees and providing shelters for the street-sleepers and eating with the poor have become routine patterns of the pope. He lives out austerity in his own life—showing the world that simplicity and austerity are possible even at the highest levels of the hierarchy and challenging the world to follow.
 
But as expected, not everything has been a smooth ride for the pontiff. It does not surprise us that the Pope Francis’ biggest critics are not external entities, but rather are from within the Church leadership. His encyclicals and exhortations have been criticised and even denounced by some in high office, for they feared the pope deviating from the doctrines of the Church. Controversy over Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love) still remains to be settled, but the pope was clear on his terms: God “desires mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
 
After years of negotiations with the government of China, Pope Francis had a breakthrough on October 22 with the provisional agreement between the Holy See and Beijing on the appointment of the bishops in China. Many hailed the moment as historic, while many others decried the move as suicidal on the part of the Church. However, the pope saw it as an essential step toward ensuring the unity of Catholics in China with the universal Church.
 
While the first five years of Pope Francis have been a period of surprises and a breath of fresh air in the life of the Church, 2018 was particularly a tough call. Allegations of sexual harassment of minors by bishops and priests in the Latin America and in the United States have rocked the Church. 
 
Should I say that Pope Francis saw this was coming in the early days of his pontificate? He famously compared the Church to a “field hospital” and a “wounded Church.”
 
And Church alone can heal these wounds with the soothing balm of mercy and compassion! jose