Filipinos, meet the 3 faces of Pope Francis

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Filipinos, meet the 3 faces of Pope Francis
It's crucial to remember the 3 faces of Francis – the Pope of Quotes, the Pope of Images, and the Pope of Surprises

MANILA, Philippines – Why do we call Francis the People’s Pope?

To answer this question, we have to look back at a minute-long video clip, which defined his papacy the night we first met him.

This video shows Pope Francis, the newly elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, appearing for the first time at the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. I watched this live on CNN that night – around 2 am of March 14, 2013, in the Philippines. 

Like the popes who came before him, Francis was supposed to give us his blessing. But his words and gestures surprised me – and revealed the 3 faces of Francis.

“And now, I would like to give the blessing,” he said. “But first, first, I ask a favor of you: Before the bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me. 

Then, with his hands clasped in prayer, he bowed his head for 20 seconds.

I fell silent.

When did I see a bishop do this? And here was Francis – the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of Peter – requesting his people to bless him first. After the princes of the Catholic Church, the cardinals, elected him in a conclave, Francis wanted us, his people, to anoint him with prayers.

He wanted to become our Pope. And he became the People’s Pope.

From this historic moment, the 3 faces of the People’s Pope emerged. Filipinos will meet these 3 faces of Francis when he visits the Philippines from January 15 to 19.

First is the Pope of Quotes. “I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me.” “Pray for me.” Book authors and the media never forgot this line, which produced titles of books, articles, and microsites. (Watch more in the video below)

Later in his papacy, Francis delivered stronger soundbites. “Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?” “We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service.” “Have the courage to swim against the tide! Have the courage to be truly happy!” (INTERACTIVE: Pope in 140: Tweetable nuggets of wisdom from the Pope of Quotes.)

In the age of livetweeting, Filipinos will meet this Pope of Quotes when he delivers his speeches in the Philippines. He’ll speak mostly in English – even if he admits his English is “poor” – but surely as he did in South Korea, he will address Filipinos “from the heart.”

The second face of Francis: the Pope of Images. That moment, when he bowed his head for 20 seconds, remained etched in my head. He said nothing but his gesture sent a clear message: Humility.

Since then, his people never forgot the other iconic images of Francis – when he hugged a disfigured man, when he allowed young people to take a selfie with him, when he often stopped his popemobile to kiss babies and bless the sick.

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

Despite the barriers installed by the Philippine government to “protect” Francis from the crowd, the Pope of Images is sure to make this a memorable trip. 

This is because Francis, as we saw at the Vatican balcony, is also the Pope of Surprises. 

One of the best examples happened on June 21, 2014, when the Pope stopped his car “to see a young disabled woman and her family on the side of the road,” the Catholic News Agency reported. Francis, after all, insists that Christians should help the neglected “person to person, in the flesh.” (Watch more in the video below)

His itinerary in the Philippines is fixed, yes – but again he is the Pope of Surprises.

It’s crucial to remember the 3 faces of Francis – the Pope of Quotes, the Pope of Images, and the Pope of Surprises – so we can cover him well in the Philippines, as professional or as citizen journalists. (READ: #PopeFrancisPH: People’s Coverage of the People’s Pope

But more than this, we should never forget: We call him the People’s Pope because of people. When we tweet his quotes or share his photos, let us never forget the people. The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, reminds us: “The papal visit is Jesus in the Pope visiting Jesus in the Filipino.” (READ: What disturbs me most about this Pope)

How can we show the theme of his visit – “mercy and compassion” – to the poorest among our people? –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email