POSTSCRIPT / January 20, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Visit opens a path to transformation

WE’LL BE WAITING: The Holy Father is back in Rome. But there is a chance he would fly back next January for the International Eucharistic Congress set in Cebu – and then have time to wrap up unfinished business and embrace once more the poor and disaster victims.

(Remember, he had to cut short his pastoral visit to Palo in Leyte last Saturday, omitting or abbreviating some scheduled activities because the worsening stormy weather threatened to prevent his return to Manila that afternoon.)

Meantime, in follow-through, Filipinos can reflect more deeply on the messages of Pope Francis, cultivate the seeds he had sown, then act together on the painful human condition brought to the fore in his interaction with children and the poor.

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SUFFER THE CHILDREN: We dare say that Pope Francis’ presence, brief it may have been, has swept Filipinos in a huge wave of a new conversion into the faith of our fathers. Many of us have strayed, and the shepherd is looking for us.

It is time we went back to the flock, reflected and acted. The Pope has left us reminders and assignments, especially on strengthening family life and caring for the poor.

One outstanding item last Sunday was the testimony of Glyselle Palomar, 12, a street waif adopted by a foundation, during the Pope’s encounter with thousands of youths gathered on the University of Santo Tomas campus.

Glyselle narrated in Tagalog how she endured life in the asphalt jungle of the city where she witnessed street children being forced by circumstances into drugs and prostitution.

Suddenly lowering her notes, she burst into tears and asked: Bakit po pumapayag ang Diyos na may ganitong nangyayari dahil walang kasalanan ang mga bata”? (Why does God allow this to happen to innocent children?)

* * *

CRYING CLEANSES: Visibly moved, the Pope could only embrace and comfort the weeping girl.

He confessed he had no ready answer to the girl’s question which, he noted, she was able to ask not as much in words as with her tears.

“Only when we too can cry about the things that you’ve said are we able to come close to replying to that question. Why do children suffer so much?,” the Pope said. “When the heart is able to ask itself and cry, then we can understand something.”

Even Christ, he said, cried in the face of the suffering of those he encountered. While the marginalized and discarded weep, the Pope added, those who live comfortable lives often don’t know how to cry.

“Certain realities in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears,” he said.

* * *

DISCERNMENT: The Pontiff was also at a loss for words in Palo, Leyte, last Saturday when he met in private with 30 survivors of supertyphoon Yolanda that ravaged the area 14 months ago.

The survivors recounted how they lost loved ones, their livelihood, everything. When Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle who was quietly listening with the Pope asked him what he wanted to tell them, he simply said “What can we say?”

Many times the Pope would tell the crowd to find time to be quiet. Some of those who have known him associate his call for silence as suggesting introspection and discernment as preparation for action.

This invitation to pause and reflect may be a good starting point for the Church, the government and their common constituents in toning down divisive debate and working together for the people, especially the children and the poor.

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COMMON GOALS: The remarkable success of the five-day pastoral and state visit has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve common goals when all sector involved quietly push aside petty differences and work together.

Everybody contributed to the visit’s success – from the President down to policemen and street sweepers, from the bishops to Cabinet officials, first aid teams to choir members, the military and the media, even the pilots who flew the papal entourage safely, to the volunteers (one of whom was killed in an accident in Tacloban).

There could be a concerted campaign by the government and the Church — careful not to violate the constitutional line that separates them — to exploit for a common national purpose the goodwill and the resolve generated by the visit of Pope Francis.

There cannot be unanimity on all action plans, but with good faith all around there can be many areas where the two sides can find common ground that can be cultivated together.

We should lose no time and no effort in exploiting the closer collaboration that the papal visit had generated between the Aquino administration and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

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PURGE: Both political leaders and church prelates – under pressure from the population tired of neglect, poverty, corruption, exploitation of labor and violation of human rights – can start with a quiet self-critical admission of their respective faults.

With Pope Francis as model, local churchmen could lead by example. They should not preach to the poor but reach out to them. They should clean their ranks, inspiring those gravitating to the temptations of the world to mend their ways.

Their encounter with the Holy Father should firm up a new resolve and a renewal of vows. That is the only way they can face their parishioners with honesty and lead them along the path set by Christ.

On the part of government, President Aquino may want to lead his Cabinet and lower officials in a similar cleansing. Those who are notoriously undesirable should not cling to their posts regardless of their closeness to the President.

Those angling for the presidency in 2016 but know in their heart how corrupt or inept they are, should drop plans of aspiring for the top post in the land.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 20, 2015)

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