Pope Francis’s focus

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Monday, August 18, 2014


POPE Francis’s five-day visit to South Korea, whose Catholics are in the minority (10.9 percent), can be considered highly successful. Seeing those photos of tens of thousands of people gathering for him should warm the hearts of Catholics, who are the majority (81.4 percent) in the Philippines. The pope will visit the country in January.

Interestingly, there’s this story in inquirer.net quoting Palo (Leyte) Archbishop John Du as saying that VIPs won’t be allowed to dominate Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines. The pope would go to some of the areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda and provide comfort to the victims. The itinerary is Manila (where he will land) and Leyte.

“If possible, the pope wants to stay away from the big people, the VIPs,” Du said. The report translated the VIPs to include the politicians and the rich. Then Du admonished, “Please give way to the poor for they are the main reason the pope will come here.”

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That should be a turnoff for politicians, especially those with moist eyes on the presidency. This is true for wannabes who are also high-ranking government officials from both the Aquino administration and the political opposition. They won’t be seen on national TV pursing their lips and bowing their heads as the pope speaks.

I have nothing against the rich who are also devout Catholics (although some of them are more devout in form rather than in substance). But it’s good that in this papal visit the stress is on the poor. As Du would put it:

“The pope said ‘Give me time to be with the poor.’ He’s telling the rich people that ‘if they want, they could assist me’ (in serving the poor). The poor are close to the heart of the Holy Father and Jesus.”

I welcome this shift in focus considering how the rich have all the opportunity to rub elbows with popes during their Philippine visits or when they go to the Vatican. They also have the resources to visit Catholicism’s most holy sites.

I was not actually conscious about this until I got married to a woman who was taught
well by her Catholic relatives on her mother’s side. When we watch TV features during Holy Week that usually show visits to, say, Jerusalem, she would always note: “Blessed kayo na sila.”

But the message of the pope’s visit to the Philippines in January should not also be lost on the Catholic Church hierarchy here. Many of them have lost the missionary zeal that the pope, who will be 78 years old in December, still possesses.

Also, they have lost the openness that the pope is now trying to recover. They have become sectarian in the real sense of the word. I checked with merriam-webster.com and found the following synonyms to that word: illiberal, insular, Lilliputian, little, narrow-minded, parochial, petty, picayune, provincial, narrow, small and small-minded.

Actually, I didn’t get this until Pope Francis replaced Pope Benedict XVI. I thought, for example, that the aggressive stance by the Catholic Bishops conference of the Philippines (CBCP) against proponents of the reproductive health (RH) law was par for the course. Then Pope Francis came and the aggressiveness now seems petty.

I realized this further when I saw how the old St. Augustine chapel in Barangay Inayawan, Cebu City is being treated by the Cebu Archdiocese, or the people who are making decisions for it. That chapel will celebrate the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo soon, but it is continuously being deprived of the opportunity for a holy mass to be celebrated there.

The reasons? I won’t elaborate, but I now see these reasons as petty.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 19, 2014.

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