When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people[a]came, bringing to him bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
— The Gospel of Saint Mark, 2:1-4
THE thick multitude of Jews following Jesus in Friday’s mass reading from St. Mark’s Gospel is much like the crowds seeking a glimpse, a wave, or, for the very lucky, security-vetted boys and girls, hugs and kisses from Catholicism’s immensely popular Supreme Pontiff on his four-day trip to the Philippines.
Even more evocative of the Manila and, presumably, the Tacloban frenzy over Francis would be the palm-waving, cloak-laying, chanting and cheering crowd that welcomed Jesus on His entry to Jerusalem, celebrated on the first day of Holy Week every year. Tragically, however, the ecstatic multitude of Palm Sunday became the crucify-him chorus on Good Friday, demanding Jesus’s death and Barabbas’s freedom.
Will this weekend’s adoring Catholics do the same to Pope Francis? Not literally, of course, but still condemning to death and nailing to the cross his message of integrity, mercy, compassion, peace and concern for the poor. Plainly, if Filipinos fail to heed the Holy Father’s exhortations, then all that adulation counts for nothing.
Sadly, the disregard for Francis’s admonitions began even before he mouthed his first official words at Malacañang Palace Friday morning. In the speech welcoming the Pope, President Benigno Aquino 3rd violated his visitor’s call for honesty in public office by speaking sacrilegious untruths about the Filipino clergy.
His Excellency deceives His Holiness
Aquino wrongly and maliciously claimed that the Catholic hierarchy were silent about failings in the past administration. Having been one of the Cabinet members conducting dialogues with prelates, this writer can categorically state that a good number of bishops individually and collectively spoke against the Arroyo administration, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines itself.
In March 2001, just two months after then-Vice President Gloria Arroyo took over from resigned leader Joseph Estrada, the CBCP said: “Our political culture is infected with a destructive virus, the virus of political patronage, pay-offs and personalities.”
A year and a half later in September 2003, the CBCP Permanent Council urged “all our political leaders, particularly our President, to respond positively and effectively to the valid issues regarding graft and corruption that various groups both in government and also in civil society have brought to public attention.”
At the height of the controversy over Arroyo’s phone call to an election commissioner, the prelates’ July 2005 plenary forum declared: “… we do not demand her resignation. Yet neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others. For we recognize that non-violent appeals for her resignation, the demand for a Truth Commission and the filing of an impeachment case are not against the Gospel.”
In January 2008, the bishops’ plenary pastoral statement was even more grim: “… we live today as a people almost without hope, it would seem. We look at our landscape and see darkness everywhere.” The CBCP then cited problems with corruption, martial law fears, charter change, activist killings, and even the proposed national ID system.
Now, is that silence about issues of concern in the past adminstration? What a lie, said to the spiritual leader of a billion Catholics worldwide, about his fellow bishops in the Philippines who wear the same prelate’s ring which Aquino and his top officials kissed reverently on Francis’ hand.
If he truly means to heed the Holy Father’s words, especially the oft-repeated calls for honesty and integrity in public office, not to mention the Church’s prohibition against desecrating and maligning ecclesial personages, President Aquino should publicly recant his untruths accusing clergy of failing to criticize the past government, and ask forgiveness. Just as he and his regime should have done when its claim of bishops getting Pajero luxury vehicles from the Arroyo administration proved false.
But don’t hold your breath for a presidential admission and apology. Certainly not from this President.
What the Holy See wants to see
Thankfully, other Filipinos in their tens of millions who welcomed Pope Francis, are listening to and not spitting on his apostolic message. So many of the ordinary citizens brought to leaps and tears by the smiles and waves of the man in white, are likely to turn their special moments of unalloyed reverence and joy into opportunities and fuel for greater faith, hope and charity in their lives.
With God’s grace and guidance, the well-wishers who waited for many hours along the papal motorcade route just for a brief glimpse of Francis, would show to the people they live and work with some of the love they poured out for the Pontiff.
The soldiers and police guarding the Holy Father with such zeal and vigilance would hopefully bring the same dedication to public duty, safety and welfare to their assigned posts in the field.
Many, if not most of the 2,000 clergy and religious at Friday’s Manila Cathedral Mass may be inspired to take up their crosses and follow Francis’s exhortation to live on less and grow more close to the underprivileged: “Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters.”
More than all the cheering and ring-kissing, personal and social transformation toward greater devotion to God and compassion for the poor is what Francis wants to see after his visit. So help us God.