In the castle of the obdurate, orthodoxy holds bastion. An institute is fossilised due to its inflexibility and commandments are etched in stone. In the shadows, there is intrigue, sometimes even vice. Those who wear white frocks don’t necessarily have unstained souls.
To the parched hordes of humanity, immersed in the universe of consumerism and strife, the Church did not necessarily provide Manna, or even the glimmer of hope that people so crave for.
So when white smoke billowed out of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican earlier this year, like most things related with the Church, many smelt politics. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires - an Argentine, was to take the baton from Pope Benedict XVI, after the latter had decided to step aside, in a rare case of papal resignation.
Was there a method to the madness? Was the election result a reflection of some preconceived and contrived outcome? Was Third World the target of the missionary zeal of the headquarters of Catholics?
Such questions and thousands others have been silenced by the determined simplicity and spectacular performance of the new Pope, who seems to have held up at least a candle of spiritual light.
Pope Francis made his motives clear from the very beginning. Firstly, he chose the name Francis from the Italian Saint Francis of Assisi because he admired his simple and frugal living as well as his love of nature.
Rather than taking the limousine after assuming office, the new Pope travelled in a bus and selected only a small apartment as residence.
He has continued to display simple manners, dialling his phone numbers than using the services of a secretary. Ask Sister Teresa of Naples and one would know what pleasant surprises are made of. Having written to the Pope seeking help against dumping of toxic waste in the area, the nun was flabbergast when she got a direct call from the Pope, and it took a bit of convincing before she actually believed that he had picked up his phone and called her number.
Many like her believe that Pope Francis has indeed transformed the church and repaired its scandal-hit image to some extent.
Even as he espouses long preached values of compassion and service, he also genuinely practices them. And you can see that from the pictures - whether it is a small boy sitting on his papal chair or another pulling his prayer cap. His Christmas address contained plain yet pertinent messages like the need to stop wasteful ways, or embrace other communities the way Christians would in turn like to be embraced.
In another incident, Pope Francis supported Spanish scavengers, who exist on the borders of society, calling their work dignified and urging people not to throw away food that is fit for consumption.
Most importantly, he has begun removing the tarnishes that were taking the sheen off the Vatican. He has set up a commission to look into sex scandals that had rocked the Church, taken action against a Bishop for his opulent ways, and formed a new regulatory body to look into charges of financial irregularities and to propose new transparent accounting practices.
Pope Francis maintains that he would prefer the “Church bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the street than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
And to this purpose, the Pope has taken firm measures to remove excessive centralisation and move towards making the Church more decentralised and approachable.
The message he has tried to deliver to his cardinals and bishops is that they are “servants not masters” and must relate with the joy and suffering of the people.
On the extremely contentious issue of homosexuality, the Pope shunned dogmatic exclusivism, saying, “Who am I to judge?” and that the community needed to be “integrated than isolated”.
For a man who has done so much and come to spell hope for thousands, if not millions, he has unfortunately kept his doors shut when it comes to the subject of ordination of female priests and much like the stance of the Church called it "not a question open to discussion".
Like always in history, women would have to struggle far more and show more patience before mercy is showered.... even by the Pope, who has shown how to care and share more profoundly.