Giant

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Saturday, December 28, 2013


AND so it came to pass that the man, who’d booked his return flight, stayed on, then cancelled his home newspaper subscription. In between, Jorge Bergolio of Argentina, 77, emerged from the conclave to the cry of Habemus Papam (“We have a Pope”).

He stunned crowds by asking, as Pope Francis, for their blessing instead. At that time, his letter of mandatory retirement, on reaching age 75, was on the papal desk.

In just nine months, Francis upended his church on issues from fixation on sexual morality to support for the poor. Time magazine picked him “Person of the Year.” And across what seemed once an unbridgeable gap, so did “The Advocate”--the oldest US gay rights magazine.

“Along comes a man with no army or weapons,” Time said. (“How many divisions has the Pope?” the dictator Josef Stalin once scoffed.) Yet, when he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes a Muslim woman’s feet, the image resonates beyond his 1.2-billion flock.

Change does not come easy to his church. It has been weakened by scandal, corruption, a shortage of priests and growing Pentecostals in South America. North Korea’s dictatorship suppresses any twinge of prayer. Catholics in China are pressured by a state that claims for Ceasar what belongs to God.

“He lives in a spare hostel. He prays even while waiting for his dentist.” He probed the Vatican bank, curbed the Italian “mafia” in the Curia and fired a German bishop for ostentatious overspending.

Before Christmas, Francis yanked out conservative US Cardinal Raymond Burke from the key Congregation for Bishops, New York Times reported. He was replaced by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, an ideological moderate with pastoral experience.

The new lineup shapes the criteria by which future church leaders will be chosen, John Allen of National Catholic Reporter wrote.

Francis’ appointments signal the kind of bishop he wants: non-ideological pragmatists, close to ordinary people, and committed to the social Gospel.

“We Christians,” he says, “should embrace Muslims with affection and respect in the same way that we hope and ask to be respected in countries of Islamic tradition.”

Now, he heads Vatican City, “an institution with about enough followers to populate China–so steeped in order, so snarled by bureaucracy, so vast in its charities, so weighed down by scandals...that the gap between him and the poor seem unbridgeable,” Time said. “Until the 266th Pontiff walked off in those clunky shoes to pay his hotel bill.”

“He raised hopes in every corner of the world that can never be fulfilled because they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest. The ambitious monsignor in the Curia and the evangelizing deacon in a remote Filipino village, both have hopes,” Time said. “No Pope can make them happy all at once.”

How will the “Francis effect” impact the Philippines where eight out of 10 are Catholics? Bishops of Lipa and Bacold were so fixated on the RH bill, they that openly campaigned versus “Team Patay”—and were trounced.

In contrast, Cardinal Luis Tagle, Cagayan de Oro archbishop Antonio Ledesma, among others, lead by seeking out the poorest. We shall see by 2016. That is when Francis flies to Cebu to attend the International Eucharistic Congress.

Asked whether all of the pope’s changes mattered, Cardinal Wuerl smiled and said, “Don’t we have to give this pope time?” 

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 29, 2013.

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