POSTSCRIPT / January 13, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Would Aquino kiss Pope Francis’ ring?

TO KISS OR NOT: There is some discussion on whether or not President Noynoy Aquino would/should kiss the ring of Pope Francis when the two leaders meet on Saturday at the start of the Pontiff’s pastoral and state visit to this dominantly Catholic nation.

This Catholic writer believes that the President, an Atenean, should kiss it — but it is all up to him if he would. When the Pope, a Jesuit, extends his right hand at their meeting, the President can either just shake it and/or with a slight bow proceed to kiss the Ring of the Fisherman.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, an Assumption alumna, always kissed the ring of the popes she had met, at times genuflecting, a reflex action among Catholics when meeting the Holy Father.

Historic previous papal visits were those of Pope John Paul II, now a saint, in February 1981 and in January 1995. In 1981, the president was Ferdinand Marcos, a member of the Aglipayan splinter of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, and in 1995 it was his cousin Fidel V. Ramos, a Protestant.

While Marcos may not be expected to raise the Pope’s hand to his lips, his wife Imelda has been photographed in proper black attire kissing the Piscatory Ring during her private audiences with the Pontiff at the Vatican.

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U.S. PRESIDENTS: In 1963, President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic US president, shook hands but did not kiss the ring when he met with Pope Paul VI after his coronation at the Vatican. Kennedy may have been still conscious of the anti-Catholic bias that marked his presidential campaign.

(It was only in 1984, btw, that the US, under President Ronald Reagan, a Presbyterian, established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.)

When President George W. Bush, an Episcopalian, welcomed Pope Benedict XVI in April 2008 at Andrews air force base outside Washington, DC, he just shook the visitor’s hand. The usually casual Bush had been also heard addressing the Pope as “Sir”, rather than the customary “Your Holiness”.

We are mentioning the protocol handling or behavior of a few other chiefs of state not to suggest that President Aquino act like them, but just to add to the backgrounder.

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WHAT IT MEANS: Some sensitive souls do not want our President to kiss the Pope’s ring because, to them, that would be a sign of subservience. It is as if the Philippine leader were placing himself and his constituents under the command or influence of the Church.

This cloud might be traced to lingering issues around such divisive measures as the reproductive health law that the Aquino administration pushed very hard to approve and which the Church vigorously opposed.

Lost to some watchers of presidential reception of the Pope is that the customary gesture of kissing the Pope’s ring — as Catholics do to the rings of cardinals and bishops — is a sign of respect and unity, of brotherhood and amity among the faithful. It is much like our native pagmamano (pressing an elder’s hand on the forehead).

It might be apropos to mention that in 1966, Pope Paul VI surprised the world when he took off the ring that he wore regularly and gave it to Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, who immediately placed it on his finger after having removed his own.

The gesture was a profound move by Pope Paul VI to show the close ties of the Catholic Church with the Church of England. The ring has been passed down from one Archbishop of Canterbury to the next. It is now part of protocol for the Archbishop to wear it whenever he visits the Pope. Later Archbishops of Canterbury, fellow bishops, and the reigning Pope still kiss that ring in veneration.

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FISHERS OF MEN: For better appreciation of the symbolism, we pass on below materials from various sources on the Ring of the Fisherman (Latin: Annulus Piscatoris; Italian: Anello Piscatorio), also known as the Piscatory Ring, an official part of the regalia worn by the Pope.

There are some 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, more than 40 percent of them living in Latin America, where Pope Francis was plucked from (Argentina) to head the universal Church.

The Pope is the recognized successor of St. Peter, the “rock” upon whom Christ built His Church. Peter was a fisherman, which explains why the papal ring features a bas-relief of him fishing from a boat, recalling that the apostles were “fishers of men”.

In earlier times, the Ring of the Fisherman was used to seal the Pope’s private correspondence. On the other hand, public documents were stamped by another seal onto lead attached to the document. They were thus called papal bulls after the stamped bulla of lead.

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OLDEN PRACTICE: In practice, a new ring is cast for each new Pope with the Latin name of the Pontiff engraved around the relief image. During the papal coronation, the Cardinal Camerlengo slips the ring on the ring finger of the new Pope’s right hand.

It used to be that a special coronation ring was placed on the Pope’s finger, designed very large since it was worn over his glove. That custom and the use of a coronation ring ended with Pope Paul VI.

When the Pope dies, the ring used to be ceremonially destroyed using a hammer in the presence of other cardinals by the Camerlengo. This was supposed to prevent issuance of forged documents during the interregnum when the papal seat was still vacant.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 13, 2015)

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