In his four-day visit to the Philippines next week, Pope Francis will have five major events: the official welcome by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Malacañang on Wednesday, the Thursday morning Mass for clergy and religious at the Manila Cathedral, the Mass and meeting with families that afternoon at the Mall of Asia’s SM Arena, the Saturday Mass and lunch with Yolanda victims in Tacloban, the youth Mass on Sunday morning at the Ponifitical University of Santo Tomas, and finally the 5-million-plus-strong Eucharistic celebration at Rizal Park on Sunday afternoon.
What should each group take away from their encounter with His Holiness?
President Aquino and other dignitaries at the official Malacañang welcome would likely be treated to Francis’s constant admonition for social justice, peace and concern for the poor.
Perhaps he may also reiterate his call for greater spirituality and mercy amid the materialistic, mechanistic world.
But perhaps the Supreme Pontiff’s most important message for the wielders of state power and prestige is the unspoken one: love and truth move people far deeper and farther than force.
Tens or even hundreds of millions across the globe heed Francis’ words and example not because he has any armed divisions enforcing his will. Rather, humankind sees the goodness and compassion he preaches in his life and actions, and that Christian message now resonates more loudly in a world corrupted by financial excess, unconscionable inequity and environmental abuse.
Let’s pray the national and international power players at the Palace hear this special message for them in the Pope’s unforced brand of global influence, along with his spoken words on justice, peace, compassion and concern for the poor.
Evangelization in consecrated and family life
At the Manila Cathedral and the SM Arena, there will be much exhortation to the Joy of the Gospel in the religious life and the family life. While foreign media may look for controversial angles like celibacy and homosexuality, the main message to both key segments of the Church is a well-worn one: every Christian, whether consecrated or lay, must spread the Gospel in the life calling which God has given him or her.
Our faith grows by constantly infusing our souls with the Spirit through constant and devout prayer and sacraments, especially the Mass and the Eucharist, and through Christ-like lives, especially serving Him though the least of our brethren, those near to us and those apart from us.
Francis has repeatedly and profoundly imparted his pontifical perspective to this message by stressing mercy and compassion toward the poor and the wayward. For Filipinos who have tended to see religion as mainly spirituality and prayer, the Holy Father’s call to match that devotion with caring for others, poses a daily challenge. So does the outreach to sinners, especially among strict traditional believers.
We pray that the consecrated and the family can embrace this papal message and make it central to their Gospel lives, as it has always been in the life, message and grace of Jesus Christ. Our God is, first and foremost, a God of love and mercy, Whose very nature is to love everyone and everything and thus bring them into existence and the fullness of life with Him.
Compassion and succor for the suffering
If any Filipino Catholic coming out of the Manila Cathedral or the SM Arena somehow missed Francis’s paramount advocacy for mercy, his Saturday sojourn to Yolanda’s calamity center in Tacloban should deliver the message without fail. Indeed, before the super typhoon, there was no papal visit on the cards. But with the appalling, crushing devastation of November 2014, Francis had to come and be with his flooded flock.
It is hoped that the Pontiff’s Mass, meal and meeting with Taclobanons would stir more compassion and elicit more assistance for the victim communities. Beyond that, however, one prays that Catholics here and abroad pondering Francis’s mission to Yolanda’s victims, would discern the underlying and overarching message in any act of love and mercy: God loves us.
The greatest meaning, value and sanctity in being one with and giving relief to the suffering of others, whether natural, man-made or demonic, is that we mortals bring God’s immortal love, mercy, compassion and upliftment to humankind and the world. And the Vicar of Christ journeying across the planet to break bread and bring comfort to the devastated people of Leyte — that has to be among the clearest present-day images of God loving the distressed.
God grant that we as a people take to heart this icon and idea of man as the vessel for divine love and salvation, and realize it in every waking moment of our fallen lives. Then we shall be lifted to our Heavenly Father, even as He brings down to earth His bounty and grace through us.
Joy to the young and the universe
The Sunday events at UST and Luneta may well be the most frenzied, if not frolicking events, with cheering, chanting masses of youth and ordinary folk celebrating the beloved Vicar of Jesus Christ. And if there is one message that would hopefully gush out of España and Roxas Boulevard, it is, as Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation is titled, Evangelii Gaudium — The Joy of the Gospel.
Let the worried, warring, wicked world witness in Manila’s tumultuous throngs of January 19 the overflowing happiness that Jesus Himself promised His followers in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are you! Let that be the biggest takeaway in the four days of faith and Francis in the Philippines.