Lessons from the Pope who is ‘able to laugh’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Cardinal Tagle describes the Pope's gestures as 'grand in their simplicity'

OLD FRIENDS. Pope Francis (1st from left) chats with Cardinals Orlando Quevedo (2nd) and Luis Antonio Tagle (3rd) during a meeting of cardinals in Vatican City in February. File photo from news.va

MANILA, Philippines – On Facebook, a photo transports Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, back to a moment that left a lasting image of Pope Francis: “very simple, very affable, soft spoken, and sort of jolly.”


In that picture, Quevedo and the Philippines’ other active cardinal, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, chat with Francis during a meeting of cardinals last February 20.


Quevedo couldn’t remember the things they talked about. From their 3-minute encounter, this is the image that stood out: The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, the heir of St Peter, the Vicar of Christ, is “able to laugh.”


“It was not like that with the two other popes that I know. I never really heard them laugh, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. They’re smiling and kind, but they never really laugh like that,” Quevedo said in an interview with Rappler.


It’s another story about the Pope who dons simple robes, lives in a Vatican guest room, and rides a 29-year-old Renault. For Quevedo, the Pope who “wears authority lightly” challenges everybody.


Quevedo said: “If the Pope is simple, and lives a simple lifestyle even though he is the Pope – the number one in the Church – why should I be acting like a king and dress up like a king, with all my regalia? Why? The Pope himself does not do it.” (READ: Cardinal Quevedo: Priests should dress like Francis)


He said Francis, who marked his first year in office on Thursday, March 13, remains the person he first worked with in 2001.


Quevedo worked with the Pope, then Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a new cardinal, in an assembly of bishops called a synod. (Watch more in the video below)


‘Bergoglio through and through’


Tagle also said he sees consistency in Francis.


“Much of the Francis effect, or even the revolution of Francis, I think, comes also from the person,” the Manila archbishop said Thursday, in a panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of Tagaytay City’s Divine Word Seminary.


It’s the same Bergoglio he worked with in a synod for 3 years, Tagle said. “What I’m seeing is Bergoglio through and through.”


Whatever Francis is doing now, after all, Bergoglio had already done before. The former Latin American bishop, for one, used to call him “fratello” or “brother.” “And now when he sees me, it’s the same. He does not call me ‘Eminenza’ (Eminence).”


Bergoglio also used to write him – the way Francis writes strangers nowadays. (READ: Making time for others: The Pope’s way)


Of the years before Bergoglio became Pope, Tagle recalled, “He reads an interview, he writes me. He sees a homily of mine printed in a magazine, he writes.”


Eliciting laughter, Tagle said in jest, “Had I known that he will become pope one day, I would have kept his letters… I have to confess, I don’t recall having responded even to one letter of his. Now I have to!”


He said the Pope calls him, too. One afternoon, for instance, his phone rang during Mass and went ignored, only for him to realize later “it was the Pope.”


“That’s how simple he is, and how personable, person-oriented, he has always been,” Tagle said. (READ: Cardinal Tagle hailed as Asian Francis)


He added, “It’s the character of the present Pope that makes the papacy, the papal office, also quite accessible to people.”


‘Grand yet simple’ gestures

'JOY OF THE GOSPEL.' Challenging his flock to share joy with others, Pope Francis embraces a disfigured man in November. Photo by Claudio Peri/EPA


The challenge, of course, goes beyond admiring the Pope. It entails following his example. (READ: New Year’s resolutions: The Pope Francis list)


In the hierarchy, Quevedo said, there is “an influence that cardinals and bishops should be simple.”


Discussions on a simple lifestyle came alive, he observed, in the recent plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). (READ: Filipino bishops slam ‘economy of exclusion’)


While talking about this is nothing new among bishops, the former CBCP president saw a difference this time around. “It has been there all the time, but no one really has given that example like a Pope,” Quevedo said.


Make no mistake about it, he added – the Pope’s words about living a simple life “are common for all the popes.”


When asked why these teachings become more noticed now, Quevedo replied, “Because of his life.”


“Words can go in and out, but then example is very strong. And that’s the way the minds can be changed,” Quevedo told Rappler.


Tagle said of the Pope who laughed with him and Quevedo: “The simple gestures of Francis are really grand gestures – grand in their simplicity. And I think it is the way by which people nowadays will understand the Gospel.” – Rappler.com


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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.