MANILA, Philippines – “Holiness is real. You can be holy. And just like the two popes, you are called to be holier still.”
That was the message of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to the thousands of Filipinos gathered at the Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, April 27, the Philippine celebration of the historic twin canonization.
The event, entitled “Shepherds, Servants and Saints,” featured a live feed of the canonization rites at the Vatican, where Pope Francis proclaimed two former popes as saints: the beloved Polish pope John Paul II and Italian Pope John XXIII.
The Araneta event comes as Filipino Catholics also celebrate the Year of the Laity.
Thousands of Catholics also attended special masses across Manila to celebrate the occasion.
‘Holiness is real’
Addressing the crowd, who filled half of the Big Dome, Tagle said the canonization of the two popes is a proclamation to the world that holiness is real.
The Manila archbishop said the two popes came from simple, humble beginnings, but became great servants of the Church because of God’s divine mercy.
“What’s the significance of this canonization? It is a declaration of holiness, sanctity and heroic virtues of ordinary men and women like us,” Tagle said.
“Holiness is a gift of God to all of us ordinary men and women. We are as ordinary as John XXIII and John Paul II. But all of us have been given the grace of holiness, and we are called to live by holiness.”
Call to be holy
Tagle then called on the faithful, especially the youth, to be brave and not be embarrassed to show that they are following Jesus Christ.
He said every person is called to holiness, and one only need to respond to that call.
Emphasizing this year’s celebration of the Year of the Laity, Tagle underscored the importance and role of lay people in the life and growth of the Church.
He said: “All of us, especially lay people, you are holy. Don’t say holiness is for a few, that it’s not relevant to our time. If you follow Jesus, you can change the world.”
The charismatic archbishop, known for his anecdotes and jokes during speeches, drew a round of laughter from the crowd when he quipped, “Tingnan ninyo katabi ninyo. Pwedeng maging santo ‘yan.” (Look at the person beside you. He or she can be a saint.)
Divine mercy works miracles
The historic twin canonization fell on the same day as Divine Mercy Sunday – a coincidence that Tagle called significant and meaningful.
He said holiness in each individual is a gift of God, restored to each person because of mercy and compassion.
“It’s significant that the canonization of the two popes happened on Divine Mercy Sunday. We are saved, restored to sanctity, even when we are sinful and broken,” he said.
Tagle then presented a hypothetical situation: what would he have done if he were Christ, resurrected from death?
Would he be merciful and forgive the disciples who abandoned him? Definitely not, said Tagle.
“Hahanapin ko si Pedro. Sasabihin ko, ‘Sabi mo iaalay mo buhay mo para sa akin, tapos biglang hindi mo ako kilala?’ Patas na tayo, ako ay makapangyarihan. Gagamitin ko ito para maghiganti sa inyo.”
(I will look for Peter. I’ll say, “You said you would offer your life for me, then suddenly you deny knowing me? We’re even now, I’m powerful. I can exact my revenge.)
“It’s my chance to get even, after all, I have power from God,” Tagle said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
“Buti na lang hindi ako si Kristo,” he added. (It’s a good thing I’m not Christ)
Tagle said divine mercy can work wonders, transforming “weak sinful human beings into disciples, friends and saints of Jesus Christ.”
“The mercy of Jesus saved the disciples. He offers peace and wholeness. We can start again,” Tagle said.
Trusted by God
The Manila archbishop turned emotional as he recounted how he had turned from being a student who kept sleeping in class to one of the top leaders of the Philippine church.
“If I look at myself, I have nothing to boast of. I slept in class, got scolded by teachers. But now I am a cardinal, only at the mercy of God,” he said.
Tagle paused and turned teary-eyed as he continued: “Lahat tayo tutulog-tulog lang, pero pinagkakatiwalaan tayo ng Diyos.” (All of us ‘sleep,’ but God trusted us to become more than that).
He then urged the crowd to pass on God’s mercy to their fellow men, translating divine mercy into acts of love and compassion.
He called on them to reject all forms of unjust actions and to treat everyone with fairness and dignity.
“If you are a recipient of God’s mercy, show that mercy. Do not be unjust. Don’t trample on the dignity of children, women, and the poor. Do not treat human beings as commodities you can traffic and exchange for a sum of money. Society gets worse because of the lack of mercy,” he added.
Tagle said only mercy, compassion, and love could be the foundations of any successful human society.
Watch his homily below.
For Fr Emmanuel Alfonso SJ, executive director of Jesuit Communications (JesCom), the two popes’ canonization served to provide new role models for modern-day Catholics.
“We can be inspired by the lives of these two saints. They were simple people, and it’s because of their humility that they became great servants of God. Ambition did not deter them,” Alfonso said.
Alfonso praised the ‘pastoral’ reputation of Pope John XXIII, who was known to have spoken with ordinary people and visited the sick.
Called “Good Pope John,” John XXIII is credited for opening the Church to the modern world by convening the Second Vatican Council.
His battle cry – “aggiornamento,” or updating – paved the way for change in the Church. The council did away with several traditional rites, such as holding the Mass in Latin. Vatican watchers consider this move as John XXIII’s lasting legacy, earning him a reputation for being a ‘liberal’ pope.
“Before Vatican II, the Church was very cautious about change. It got left behind,” Alfonso said.
“The clergy took center stage. The Pope changed that. John XXIII asked, what does the church need? The Church needs fresh air. It’s not just the clergy that make up the church. The Church is the people of God,” he added.
Alfonso said the legacy of the two popes lives on in Pope Francis. Francis captured the world’s attention when he consistently broke Vatican protocol to be closer to ordinary people. His actions have been hailed for making the Church much more open and accessible.
Loved by Filipinos
The two popes are beloved to Filipinos.
Pope John XXIII named the first Filipino cardinal, Rufino Cardinal Santos.
But ordinary Filipinos know little about John XXIII, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, one of the organizers of an upcoming exhibit to spread awareness about the pope.
The relics of John XXIII, including a piece of his funeral cassock, will be on display in Manila in May as part of the celebrations.
The globe-trotting John Paul II made his mark on Filipinos by visiting the country twice.
He first visited the Philippines in 1981, when he beatified the Philippines’ first saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. His second visit was during the World Youth Day celebrations in 1995, considered the world’s largest gathering with more than 5 million attendees.
More than 80% of the Philippines’ 100 million population are Catholics, and the Church remains a major influence on daily life. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com