WITH the coming of the Pope to the Philippines this week, expect our roads to be clean and beautified, traffic to be disciplined and orderly, our people to be on their best behavior, including politicians who will stop, albeit temporarily, all their shenanigans. Even the government’s investigations of various corrupt activities will be halted so as not to wash our country’s dirty linen in the Pope’s presence. Indeed, expect a temporary cessation of various types of conflicts altogether. Expect the Filipinos’ piety and reverence to be on full display.
I make these predictions in light of what I have observed during the previous pope visits. Indeed, how we honorably conducted ourselves as a nation during previous pope visits made me indulge in a bit of wishful thinking. Why could we not always act like so?
If we could make traffic so orderly by just following the rules and being disciplined, if we could clean up our streets and beautify and respect our surroundings, if we could stop attacking each other, if we could stop corruption and do our work ethically in the presence of His Holiness, why could we not do so every day, or even when the Pope is not here.
Being a good Catholic, I believe, is very much compatible with being a good citizen.
This particular pope would not be so impressed with all the cosmetic preparations to his visit. If he were to travel to the Philippines incognito (it has been reported that Pope Francis does secretly sneak out of the Vatican some nights incognito to distribute alms to the poor) and arrive here unexpected, I suspect he probably would not be so impressed with what he sees.
For one, I don’t think he would like seeing all the children and homeless on the streets not being cared for, especially since the government has a huge budget for social welfare.
Pope Francis has rattled the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, with his fresh and at times controversial messages. He has presented the prospect of change for the very traditional and rigid structure of the Catholic Church. He is not afraid to say some very challenging things and call people to task.
Pope Francis as the head of the Catholic Church, wants to repair its tarnished image. As a predominantly Catholic nation we should too. We should ponder the kind of religiosity we practice and ask whether it has any role to play in the rut we find ourselves in as a nation.
Indeed, going by the number of religious festivals we have here, the places of worship that dot our landscape, and the religious symbols we see at homes, in workplaces and on people, one can’t deny by casual observation that Filipinos seem to be a very religious people.
But is it the kind of religiosity wherein we can do what we want for as long as we go to Mass on Sundays, say the rosary and perform other religious devotions?
How can one explain, for instance, the institutional and cultural corruption in the country? How can a people so deeply religious practice or tolerate such corruption?
I’ve often heard it asked, “How can a people so religious be so corrupt?” Could it be that there is actually no connection between our religiosity and the ethics we practice or do not practice in government, in workplaces, in society in general? Is it possible that Filipinos actually believe that religion has nothing to do with indulging in acts of corruption?
Or how can we be religious and yet act like boors on the road, not follow traffic rules and officials, practice discipline and road courtesies?
How can we reconcile our religiosity with rampant criminality and violence?
How can we reconcile our Catholic faith with the lack of care and respect we show to our environment which has been in constant degradation over so many years?
Pope Francis has been saying in his messages that faith without action is nothing, that for faith to make a difference it has to be lived and fulfilled in our lives. Faith without action is nothing more than false enthusiasm, empty phrases, much like the political rhetoric we hear today.
It’s foolish and shortsighted to talk about economic and political change without seriously addressing the moral fiber of our nation. Should we not depend on our religious values to sustain the commitments we want to see in society?
The Pope is on to something. Religion may not be a cure-all against corruption and all our society’s ills, but it should matter. It should even be the starting point for change.