Truly the Person of the Year: Pope Francis

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By Luci Lizares

Friday, December 27, 2013

THE Person of the Year award was first given in 1927 by Time magazine’s editorial board to the person who they believed has the most impact in the lives of the people and in the news for the year.

This year, Time chose Pope Francis, head of over 1.2 billion Catholics, among the nine finalists for the prestigious award. Two other Pontiffs were cited for the award namely, Blessed John Paul II in 1994 and to Blessed John XXIII in 1963, both candidates for canonization. But Pope Francis, just nine months in the job, has captured attention of the world with his messages and deeds of humility and compassion. He is believed to have pulled the “Papacy out of the Palace and into the streets.”

Vatican says: “the choice of Pope Francis helps spread the message of the Gospel, a message of God’s love for everyone. It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious recognitions by the international media has been given to a person who proclaims to the world spiritual, religious, and moral values and speaks out forcefully in favor of peace and greater justice.”

A man of humble beginnings and rare humility, Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 in Buenos Aires, the son of a railway worker. He joined the Jesuit order in 1958, studied philosophy, literature and psychology; was ordained a priest in 1969 and graduated as a professor of theology. He was promoted through the ranks of the Jesuits as Cardinal in 2001. He is the first ever Argentinian Cardinal to become a Pope from the Americas in the Church’s history and the first Jesuit Pope. He is 77 years old.

His life has been characterized by humility as supported by a simplistic lifestyle. Instead of a bishop’s palace, he lived in a small apartment where he cooked his own meals. As a Cardinal of the Church in Argentina, he passed the right to have a chauffeured limousine and instead used public transport.

On March 13, 2013, when he was named Pope, the 266th Supreme Pontiff walked off the hotel, he was booked during the conclave, and paid his bill. He named himself Francis after the humble saint from Assisi and called for a Church of healing. From that name, his agenda follows. Pope Francis sees “the church as a field hospital after battle.” His vision is of a pastoral church to minister and embrace the poor, the spiritually broken and the lonely. “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote. He made it clear that he does not just want talk – he wants actual transformation.

His message is not mere talk. He is known for having a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by choosing to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace formerly used by his predecessors. In addition, he is known for favoring simpler vestments void of ornamentation; refusing the traditional papal mozetta upon his election and choosing silver instead of gold for his piscatory ring plus keeping the same pectoral cross he had when he was cardinal.

While his demeanor is self-effacing, this heir of St. Peter nonetheless makes use of 21st century tools to be current while performing his office dating back to the first century like having “selfie photos” with the “bagets” visitors. That transcended many generation gaps and is really quite cool for a Pontiff.

As transformation is his goal, he leads by effective example. Embracing the deformed man has caught the hearts and sensibilities of the faithful and even hardened hearts.

While not compromising Church doctrines, his compassion resonates when quoted about saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge,” he says in Italian. This line has become such a Tag! Even divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” To the atheist who tells him, I do not believe Father, he responds: “Do good and we will meet one another there.” His emphasis for mercy comes from Jesus and he says we can never have enough of it.

People are rather awed with Pope Francis’ spontaneity but since his sincerity emanates from his core, then he can go unprompted. There is this Swiss Guard anecdote of the conversation between him and the guard which has quite inspired many people. “And what are you doing here?” asks the Pope. Were you awake all night? “Yes,” the guard answered respectfully. “Standing?” “One of my colleagues gave me a break.” “And you’re not tired?” “It’s my duty Your Holiness, for your safety.” The Pope looked at him with kindness. He went back into his apartment and, after a few minutes, returned with a chair in his hand: “At least sit down and rest.” Shocked, the Swiss Guard replied, “Forgive me, but I can’t! The rules don’t allow it.” “The rules?” “My captain, Your Holiness.” “Oh, is that so? Well, I’m the Pope and I am asking you to sit down.” So, between the rules and the Pope, the Swiss Guard, complete with his halberd, chose the chair. And then the Pope brought him some bread and jam for a snack, saying, “Buon appetito, brother.” Isn’t that amazing? Of course this can raise eyebrows especially for the traditionalists but when the Supreme Pontiff says so, you obey for he is infallible.

In his first Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican, the Pontiff returns to his theme of humility that has been the hallmark of his papacy. He called on Catholic believers to open their hearts and struggle against the "spirit of darkness." He continues: "If our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us." He calls upon the Prince of Peace to turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. He calls on the Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted for Your name.

Grant hope and consolation to the displaced and refugees and for migrants in search of a dignified life that they may find acceptance and assistance. He calls on the Child of Bethlehem, to touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers. He pleads with the Lord of heaven and earth, to look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. He even includes us in his prayer: “Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon.”

In conclusion, he appeals to everyone today, “to pause, be quiet and reflect before the Child of Bethlehem. Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress. God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever! God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God's goodness.” To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, He loves us, He gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

To quote a writer: “Argue less, accomplish more,” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle. Francis says by example to stop bickering and roll up your sleeves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – an important thing for the world to hear, especially from a man who holds an office deemed infallible. How totally pertinent to us in these times.

Indeed, he befits to be the Person of the Year!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on December 27, 2013.


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