Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was released on Sept. 12, after being kidnapped 18 months ago in Yemen, knelt at the feet of Pope Francis during a Sept. 13 meeting at the Vatican.
In return, the Pope kissed Father Uzhannalil’s hand.
Fr. Uzhunnalil is from Kerala, and the gesture of “taking the dust” from the feet of elders and teachers shows great respect, meaning that they are of such dignity that you, the younger greeter, can benefit from someone who has walked the earth longer than you. I am not sure if that is the meaning or intention of Fr. Uzhunnalil’s personal gesture, but it is a beautiful act of respect throughout South Asia/Southeast Asia and would certainly apply to Pope Francis.
(CNS photos/L’Osservatore Romano)
After his release, the Vatican press office released a statement saying, “The Holy See fervently thanks all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the Sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the Sultanate.”
Papal Artifacts celebrates in gratitude the release of Father Tom and prays for him as he begins the long road of recovery.
Why Do We Have a Pope: A Commentary by Father Richard Kunst, Curator
We Catholics are the only ones who have a pope, and he is pretty darn important, so what gives? I’m surprised that I overlooked this important topic, since the history of the papacy is my favorite thing to read and learn about.
First, we have to look at scripture. The most important passage is in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks the Apostles who the people think he is. After getting a handful of crazy ideas, he asks the Apostles who they think he is. Peter replies: “You are the Christ.” Jesus then says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. So I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Books have been written about this passage, so I can only skim the tip of the iceberg.
This is the first time in recorded history anyone receives the personal name of Peter. Jesus invents the personal name out of rock, so it’s a new creation, a new thing.
Jesus is also deliberate in stating that this information was not given to Peter by a human; it was revealed to him by the heavenly Father, showing a unique and special relationship between God and our pope.
Besides this famous passage, Peter is mentioned in the Gospels more than all the other Apostles combined. When their names are listed, Peter is always the first one mentioned.
And finally, among other passages of scripture we see that the office of the Apostles was one in which there was succession since in the first chapter of Acts, Matthias is chosen to take the place of Judas who had hung himself. So if the office of the least important Apostle needs to be filled by succession, doesn’t it stand to reason that the office of the most important Apostle also needs to be filled by successors?
We can trace the popes all the way back to Peter. Pope Francis is number 266.
The Bishop of Rome has from the very beginning held the seat of primacy. A couple of early quotes confirm this.
Pope Clement I (92-1-1 AD) said, “If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.”
St. Irenaeus, speaking around 180 AD said, “For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church (Rome), on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere.”
Obviously the pope was important from the beginning. A couple of his earliest titles confirm that.
The pope inherited the title Pontificus Maximus from the Roman emperors. The title means “chief bridge builder.” So the pope was a source of unity for all believers, someone they knew they could look to who would keep them in unity with Christ and his teachings.
Another early papal title is “Vicar of Christ.” To understand the importance of this title, we need to understand that vicar means voice. So every time we refer to the pope as “the Vicar of Christ,” we are making a statement of faith that the pope is the voice of Christ. If he is the voice of Christ, then what he says and what he teaches are not only important, but also they must be obeyed because he is speaking for God.
On more than one occasion non-Catholics have told me they envy the Catholic Church because of the papacy. The comments are almost always said because of the unity the pope signifies as well as the consistency. As Catholics, we all have the same leader—a person who holds the office established by Christ—and though there may be a lot of different opinions among Catholics, if you are a Catholic, by very definition you are under the leadership of the pope.
In 1974, the preeminent theologian, Hans urs Von Balthasar, wrote a book called, “The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church.” In it, he said, “The Rock, which totally assimilates its faceless office-bearer, stands squarely confronting the ‘gates of hell’. The Rock still stands, though each generation declares that the Church is dead. Yet she is still there as a miracle, not merely as an idea but as an unconquerable reality. That is Peter’s way of disappearing.”
As Catholics, we should be filled with both love and pride that God has given us the gift of the papacy. When we see our Holy Father on television, our hearts should churn for love of the God we cannot see, but who manifests himself in the office of pope.