POSTSCRIPT / January 18, 2015 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Filipino Catholics typhoon-proofed!

HERE I AM!: What else can we say? After that incredible outpouring in Tacloban of Filipinos’ love for the Holy Father and their confidence in divine mercy and compassion, words fail.

Even the shepherd Pope Francis admitted his loss for words as he witnessed the devotion of the flock gathered in disciplined quadrants in front of the makeshift altar at the airport that was a scene of desolation more than a year ago.

The Pope apologized, with characteristic lightness, for being somewhat late to be with the survivors of typhoon Yolanda that ravaged the Visayas 14 months ago. He was sporting a yellowish plastic raincoat, the Filipinos’ contribution to papal vestments.

Late though he was – “Here I am!” he announced, speaking as the embodiment of Christ comforting the afflicted. That salved their pain, tears mingling with rain.

* * *

TWIN MESSAGES: Even as he officiated at the airport Mass, rain and wind lashed the unflinching multitude made typhoon-proof (in both physical and metaphysical sense) by the presence of the Holy Father and by the people’s renewed faith in Providence.

In his homily in Spanish, the Pope communicated his message of compassion and hope through an interpreter who did superb justice to the eloquence of the Pontiff.

On TV, the viewer would hardly notice the Pope showing signs of fatigue despite his grueling schedule. Still, he would smile even when throwing an occasional fatherly admonition.

When he apologized in Palo for cutting short his visit because storm signal No.2 might prevent his plane’s return flight to Manila, he gave these parting messages: (1) Pray for me!, and (2) Keep quiet! (at which the crowd laughed).

* * *

NOT A DEBATE: Not only the people, but also government leaders of this dominantly Catholic nation, may want to heed the Pope’s advice to keep quiet (and listen?) in the same spirit as Christ’s own reproach at Gethsemane to watch and pray.

On the remarks of Pope Francis at the reception in Malacañang last Friday, and the welcome message of President Noynoy Aquino:

• Their messages were written in advance without either speaker aware of what the other would say. It would be an error to conclude that the two state leaders were answering each other, or debating population control, the duty to look after the poor and the need to curb corruption.

• Both Church prelates and government officials gifted with goodwill and the wisdom to know when to listen and act along the lines suggested by the Pope and the President will grow in the eyes of God and their fellow Filipinos.

* * *

P-NOY REMARKS: President Aquino spoke first. As host, he was expected to be all courtesy and compliments. He surprised not a few when he said (among other things) while addressing His Holiness:

“Colonialism was brought to our shores partly by the efforts of the conquistadores and of the Church. When the clergy in that period was asked how they justified the injustices committed during the colonization, they responded: the Kingdom of God is not of this earth.

“With Vatican II, however, this changed: Instead of being a pillar of the establishment, the Church began to question the status quo.

“The Gospel challenges each member of the Church to go beyond alms giving and charity, and be concerned with injustice in temporal matters. We were taught that if we do not intercede to make each person capable of exercising freedom of choice, we are not our brother’s keepers.

* * *

ROLE OF CLERGY: “(These teachings) have been central to my family’s advocacy. We, along with millions of Filipinos, went through the dictatorship. Then President Marcos declared martial law in 1972, when I was 12 years old, beginning an era in which the most fundamental rights were flagrantly and routinely violated.

“Martial law deprived our family of a loving husband and father. Many of our friends avoided us. The courage and daring displayed by the clergy (then) solidified my belief: During the martial law years, the Church of the poor and oppressed shone vividly.

“There was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day.

“In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin.”

* * *

POPE’S STATEMENT: Without referring to the President’s remarks, the Pope said, among other things:

“Essential to the attainment of national goals is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity. The great biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.

“Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart. The Bishops of the Philippines have asked that this year be set aside as the ‘Year of the Poor’. I hope that this will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.

“Like all God’s gifts, the family can also be disfigured and destroyed. It needs our support. We know how difficult it is to preserve and defend such basic human values as respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn and extending to that of the elderly and infirm.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 18, 2015)

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