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Pope Francis: What’s the big deal?

Paul John Caña
Pope Francis: What’s the big deal?
'If your faith could so easily be shaken, then perhaps you didn’t have enough of it in the first place'

To say that Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines was a big deal would be a colossal understatement. For those old enough to remember, the last time the entire country got into such a frenzy was two decades ago, and, unsurprisingly, it was to welcome another Pope, now Saint John Paul II. 

This time though, in the age of instantaneous information via the internet and social media, somehow, the excitement was more pronounced, and the feelings of fulfillment more immediate. 

Checking through my social media feed, which was expectedly inundated with up-to-the-second updates about the Pope’s every move and word, the general consensus seemed to be an overwhelming sense of joy and providence. Tears were shed during his speeches and homilies, as countless (mostly blurry) pictures of him riding in his pope-mobile were uploaded to Facebook and Twitter.

Millions upon millions of people lined the streets and patiently sat through nonstop rains to catch a glimpse of the Argentinean in the white zuccheto. Casual Catholics were drawn out of “hibernation” to attend mass in what is now being referred to as the largest papal audience in history.  

As for me, I chose to drive home to my parents’ house in Cavite and watch the nonstop TV coverage of the pope’s activities there. I applied for and was issued a media pass and could have seen the pope in the flesh, but I chose not to use it. 

For me, the pope’s visit wasn’t so much a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza as it was one of those events that brings the family together, kind of like Christmas or a birthday.

This isn’t to diminish or make light of the efforts of those who took a chance and braved the crowds so they could attend the papal activities in Manila and in Leyte.

Hats off to you, if you were one of them. 

Common sense

LOLO KIKO. What's the big deal with Pope Francis? asks a Filipino. File photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP

You have to wonder, though, how many of those who turned up were there because of their faith and not because they wanted to see a “celebrity.” 

How many were driven by a desire to worship their God through their religion’s leader, and not because they wanted to be “in,” or, God forbid, they had nothing better to do? How many stood along Roxas Boulevard or Taft Avenue and made the trek to UST or Quirino Grandstand willingly, and not because they were obliged to?

Undoubtedly, Pope Francis is an intelligent, charismatic man, and he has made some remarkable, if not controversial, pronouncements about a variety of social and moral issues since he assumed the papacy nearly two years ago. 

As a nation with Asia’s biggest Catholic population, we are naturally hardwired to feel a sense of affinity for the leader of the Catholic faith. And we certainly witnessed that—and then some—with the sensational welcome mat we laid out for Pope Francis over the last 5 days. 

However, I find it confusing how some people, through their Twitter posts or Facebook statuses, were so quick to find inspiration from the pope’s words, much of which was basic common sense.  

It seems to me that if you need a pope to tell you to be kind, be more charitable to the poor, or listen to women because they have “much to tell us,” then I’m sorry, but your moral compass is seriously out of whack. 

Then again, I realize that some people do need a whack on the head, or in this case, admonition or reminder from the pope himself, to be good and keep right. 

There’s nothing wrong with getting all emotional at seeing St Peter’s successor, hearing him voice out these eloquent, beautiful words, and using them for introspection and self-improvement. What’s problematic is allowing the image of the man to take over our lives and confusing him for what he represents. 

Yes, doctrine teaches us that the pope is infallible on matters of faith, but the 78-year-old man is also just that—a man—one who is capable of mistakes (despite what the elders say), whose words are subject to interpretation, and whose mortal body will, as we all know, one day wither and die, just like every other person on the planet. 

If we are blessed with anything, it’s not his presence or even his existence, but the gift of free will and the ability to think, feel and act for ourselves. Of course, whether we exercise or make use of this gift is another thing altogether.

Free speech

Pope Francis also talked about free speech and how he believes it ends where respect for other people’s religion begins. Seeing as he is the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, that’s expected. 

What’s surprising to me is the insistence of the most hardcore liberals that he alter his position about this, and many other social concerns. It’s reasonable to advocate change and equality and fight against stigma and prejudice, and those who do should be applauded; and if their beliefs match your own, supported. 

But the Church is 2,000 years old, I’m not going to hold my breath that change is coming anytime soon, even with a pope as darn loveable as this one. I don’t think that’s defeatist; more like being a realist

If anything, the pope’s visit has shone the spotlight on discussions regarding spirituality and religion, and that’s a good thing. While the Philippines may be 80% Catholic (based on popular statistics), what the conservatives fail to realize is that there is a small, but very real minority who does not share this giddy enthusiasm for His Holiness, not to mention his visit. 

You would think that people should just accept this reality, but it’s still shocking to me how venomous they can get towards those whose opinions differ from their own.  

If your sensibilities could so easily be offended by something somebody posted on Facebook or Twitter, then doesn’t the problem lie with you? If your whole belief system is predicated on what you’ve been told and what the majority follows, then what does that say about you? 

If your faith could so easily be shaken, then perhaps you didn’t have enough of it in the first place. – Rappler.com

Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at pjcana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana


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