MUMBAI – Francis has a well-earned reputation as the “Cold Call Pope,” often phoning people out of the blue who’ve written him or whom he wants to contact for some other reason. He recently burnished that reputation with a video call to the 95-year-old grandmother of a member of his travel team.
On Sept. 2, Pope Francis made a video call to the home of the Kallukalam family in the southern Indian state of Kerala, which was answered by Father Thomas Kallukalam, who belongs to India’s Syro-Malabar church, one of the 23 eastern churches in communion with Rome.
The pope promptly asked for Kallukalam’s mother, 95-year-old Sosamma Antony, who is also the grandmother of Monsignor George Koovakad, an official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State who serves as a member of the pontiff’s advance team for his foreign trips and travels with the pontiff.
During Francis’s July 2022 trip to Canada, Koovakad has mentioned that his grandmother was ill with Covid-19. Since that time, the pope periodically would ask Koovakad for updates on his grandmother’s health, and during his recent Aug. 31-Sept. 4 trip to Mongolia, he expressed a desire to speak with her.
Thus on Sept. 2, at 12:45 p.m. local time in the Changanassery Kottayam district of Kerala, a call came through on Kallukalam’s computer, and when he swiped up to accept, the face of Pope Francis appeared. The pontiff asked for Sosamma, and the two spoke for roughly four minutes.
Francis spoke in English and Italian and Sosamma responded in Malayalam, the dominant local language in Kerala, while Koovakad, who was with the pope, translated the conversation. At one stage the two waved at one another, and then Francis offered a blessing.
Francis, who has expressed his concern for the elderly and the ailing on multiple occasions, enquired about Sosamma, and also praised her for raising her grandson.
“When I told him that I will pray for him, he said that he needed my prayers,” Sosamma said.
At that point in the video, Francis, speaking in English, responded, “I need, I need … this job is crazy!”
Koovakad, who has been the pope’s travel team for several years, said that upon their return to the Vatican after the 2022 Canada trip, the pope sent him a note instructing him to go home quickly to visit his grandmother. Then, while the pope was on the trip to Mongolia, he told Koovakad he wanted speak to her.
Kallukalam, who was present throughout with his mother Sosamma as the video call was made, and who at one point showed the pope a book he’d written on the Eucharist, said it came together quickly.
“We were informed about the call just a few hours earlier that day,” he said. “My mother stays with my brother, Sibichan, and soon our relatives gathered at his place for the call.”
Kallukalam, who is the prior of a community in Kerala, said his mother was astonished when the call came.
“She never expected such a call,” he said. “After the call, my mother kept repeating what a great blessing it was to have spoken to the pope,” he added.