POPE Francis is coming to the Philippines on a journey of mercy and compassion. That is the stated reason and theme that he brings to this country. He comes to console the victims of the super typhoon that hit it in 2013 as well as to be in solidarity with the poor in one of the poor countries of the world and the Church. Thus, apparently in response to his request he will dine with the typhoon victims, a selected number of them for purposes of an orderly visit and person-to-person contact for him to express his sympathy, his prayers and his goodwill. Indeed, if the encounter is as requested by the Pope, it would be really meeting the poor to console and inspire them. In this way Pope Francis will also touch all here who suffer in many ways, a multiplier effect that may be felt by those who suffer in this country. And there are multitudes.
We also all know from the way Pope Francis has taken over the leadership of the Catholic Church that he wants to stay on message, reform it, simplify its management so that it focuses on the problems of the times as well as eliminates the barnacles that have led it to paths of luxury, corruption, impiety and what we all know has been ailing it for a long time.
Meanwhile, we have seen and have been moved by Pope Francis’ solicitude for one and all, sinner and saint, in this universe, in his non-judgmental, day-to-day approachability, practical simplicity and attention to the fundamentals of Faith, not its peripheral institutional grandeur. He has expressed all of these aims in deeds more than words, though words too have their place when they are measured and fulfilled by actions.
So, we are looking forward to his visit to the Philippines. But there seems to be mixed signals coming from our Church hierarchy here in connection with this visit. I am getting the feeling that we are about to throw the house out of the window to welcome Pope Francis and I doubt very much if he would really approve. The way the visit is being hyped is virtually a call to mass hysteria, an overkill. All forms of communication have devoted too much to the point of nonsense about this coming event. It is overdone and will soon be boring. We do not need to have Pope Francis interpreted for us over and over again (with even self-serving interpretations to the fore). The world already knows this Pope. They want to hear him in person, not let others put words in his mouth. The church hierarchy here should get over their attitude of treating us like children as in long sermons and repetitive platitudes that do nothing to convey the real message, mercy and compassion in deeds not words.
Those hosting the visit of the Pope seem to be paying too much attention to raising funds, drowning out the message of faith and love that is the main event. There is a waste of television time featuring themselves and obscuring the Christian tenet of loving your neighbor by paying too much attention to material details. These Church personalities on the excuse of the visit are putting themselves much to the fore. The Archdiocese of Manila, for one, is hogging air time and other forms of media now, weeks before. It is virtually pre-empting the regular television stations whose broadcasters should be allowed to do the reporting on their own terms. It has also seen fit to venture into commercial enterprise on the excuse of the papal visit, selling Pope Francis souvenirs for a profit, something which should have been left to small entrepreneurs and let them participate in profits to be made. That would be helping the poor. An air of commercialism is permeating with items like Huwag Magnanakaw t-shirts for sale, an ill-thought-out insult, or at the very least a condescending message, treating people as ignorant children who do not know better. This is meaningless preaching, more a joke than something to be taken seriously. Meanwhile the consequence of focusing almost incessantly on raising funds has encouraged scam artists to join the effort for themselves. The Cardinal called them “poseurs” in a specially televised message (which must have had to be paid with a big chunk of the money raised). The “poseur” term is unfortunate and unclear, so affected and unfamiliar to the public which makes the message it is trying to convey useless and laughable. It is also somewhat distasteful and downright undignified as an official statement by the Archdiocese of Manila implying that the money should go to them instead of the “poseurs.” Who started the money game anyway? That is what comes when money is seen to be the overarching activity All will seek a piece of that action.
By the way, television time is expensive and maybe should be confined to details of Pope Francis’ visit and the visit itself, rather than extended interviews of the church officials too many times before, supposedly talking about Pope Francis but sometimes talking more of themselves or repeating themselves ad nauseam. Have mercy on the public.
The president of the CBCP had a high profile television hagiography last week about himself with token allusions to Pope Francis, more suited for running for public office. (Is he running for public office, or some higher office?) As with the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Manila whose numerous stories about the former Pope and the present Pope are about the Popes and him, giving himself star status in the narratives. Are these egos in action?
Note that new liturgical furniture is being specially made for this visit. Just saw the designs on television, they are virtually building a whole church of furniture for the Luneta. After centuries of being Catholics do we not have enough of religious furniture around? Is this in keeping with the simplicity and theme of mercy and compassion where money solicited is being spent for peripherals instead of directly helping the many in need? And who is pushing this five-week holiday in the Metro Manila area? Are not daily wage workers going to be unduly and adversely affected by a no work no pay situation? Would Pope Francis approve? Will these daily workers appreciate him for it? This is what I mean by throwing the house out of the window. The poor will be affected by the unnecessarily extravagant hospitality that not only we cannot afford but is tasteless and wrong in a poor country.
Meanwhile, nuns, students, lay workers, lowly government officials are being drafted to work, to contribute, to sacrifice time and effort for this visit. Will they be given proper credit? Such as the nuns, for example, who have been drafted to do much, usually the menial stuff, will they be given the appreciation and commendation they deserve by introducing them to Pope Francis? Will they have a place in the Manila Cathedral other than some dark faraway corner when the hierarchy in their pomp and finery attend the mass celebrated by Pope Francis? Where in the shadows will they place the Jesuits, the order of Pope Francis? With the kind of preening church hierarchy we are accustomed to see and hear, too often speaking out of turn, too much and in unmeasured tones, I fear they will be lost in the hinterlands of the Manila Cathedral. But then again, if they are true to the tenets of Christianity, they will not care. And what about major contributors, I fear they will have a place of honor eclipsing those who the pope most wants to see. We expect to see the usual wealthy suspects and holier-than-thous in their finery with their photos, selfies on television with the pope. More worrisome is the politically active fundamentalist hierarchy and their fanatic camp followers who may try to get the Pope to make a political statement to suit them. Pope Francis will probably identify the ploy but it will be an unpleasant situation to deal with biases and self-serving motives. We have heard enough from the intemperate statements and too often seen the judgmental stands many of the church hierarchy have inflicted on us during electoral campaigns or legislative moves or even in inappropriately kilometric sermons in Sunday masses. They treat their laity like ignorant children to be reprimanded or manipulated instead of reasoned with. Has the Archdiocese of Manila, for example, forgiven Carlos Celdran, who has apologized, but last we heard the Archdiocese does not deign to withdraw their court case against him? Will this papal journey of mercy and compassion affect its stand? I am holding my breath.
Let us go back to the reason for the Pope s visit, to show mercy and compassion. We are a country of a poverty-stricken majority who are on the edge of despair and can lose the Faith. If his visit can move the obscenely rich, the comfortable rich and the middle class in this country to share more with their poorer countrymen without whose help they would not be where they are, then the visit will be a success. This should be the real message given by example, not sermons, to be taken to heart. Otherwise, it will be drowned in the peripherals that are accumulating. If things are not reversed, the visit will just be a celebrity bash, a Pope Francis and me story for the usual suspects and the favored few albeit using a cast of thousands, with no good and transformative effect.
To understand and take to heart Pope Francis and his message, we do not have to personally see him or have him see us. Just hear the message in simple circumstances that promote understanding it and bring on commitment.
This column was written before Christmas but I withheld it to think it over. Then I went to gathering after gathering of ordinary but discerning people and they felt the same way. The majority of the Church hierarchy here sadly and perversely continue to underestimate the intelligence of the laity. That is my message.
Happy New Year!