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A portrait of Pope Francis after his apostolic visit to the Philippines

His visit made an immaculate etch within our hearts and memories.

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Editor’s Note: This article was first published online on February 2015.

We know him as the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God, and now, as Lolo Kiko.

Truly, we Filipinos have grown fond of Pope Francis. His visit made an immaculate etch within our hearts and memories. Who he is from the smallest to the bigger things we learned about, thanks to the extensive media coverage during the course of his visit.

We saw his seemingly boundless energy, or his affecting smile, or even learned about his fondness for sweets. But on what he said and did here in the Philippines, what did it show about him?

Setting aside the sensational portrait the mainstream media has painted during his visit, let's talk about the legacy he left in the course of his short stay in the country.

The People’s Pope

While it is true that as his designations suggest, he occupies a very exalted position. But his visit to the Philippines, he proved that it doesn’t make him feel any superior than the poor and the broken.

One prime example of this is how he sympathized with the Yolanda survivors in Leyte. Most of us saw that moment on TV. He was delivering a very honest and humble homily at Tacloban Airport amid the pouring rain and the occasional gust of wind of the looming tropical storm. All he had was an ordinary raincoat which wasn’t any different from the ones the Yolanda survivors were wearing, and we’re not talking about any member of the clergy but the Roman Pontiff himself. He delivered a short message yet its sincerity pierced through the heart of every broken person there.

“So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you, but the Lord does know what to say to you,” admitted Pope Francis. “Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent and walk with you all with my silent heart.”

One day before the pontiff’s visit to Tacloban City, he delivered a speech at Malacañang in which he expressed his confidence that “the praiseworthy efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation between the followers of the different religions will prove fruitful in the pursuit of this noble goal. In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Is this a premonition of what would happen in Maguindanao, just a few days after his speech at Malacañang? Would what he said still matter, in light of the demise of our 44 SAF commandos?

And one of the messages he spoke of that ricocheted off the walls and the pillars of the whole Philippine archipelago, from the foundations of the Supreme Court to the slums in virtually every region of our country was of the undying issue of corruption and poverty. He made sure to tell everyone, “to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.” He seemed to have approved of the decision of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines to declare this year, 2015, as the Year of the Poor.

There are still many noteworthy things that could be written about Pope Francis’ brief stay in the Philippines and on what those words and gestures implied and how it impacted every Filipino, and, borrowing from the Apostle John’s resignation in ascribing all of the acts that Jesus Christ did on earth.

However, what the pontiff said would remain as they are — words — until the hearers of them did something about it.

The challenge and the call.

“Do you love me?” were the first words that came out of the Vicar of Christ during his homily at the Manila Cathedral on January 16, 2015. Of course, he didn’t hear everyone’s answer to his question that time, but by now it should be clear as day.

Addressing the issue of poverty, and since this is the Year of the Poor, he explained that “Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters. We will see things in a new light and thus respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization and scandalous inequality.”

The question is, as to what extent are we willing to identify with the least of our fellowmen? The answer to that is the challenge itself.

In the same homily he reminded us of our calling, not just as a country with the majority of its people as Catholics, but as a shepherd tending Jesus’ own sheep.

“Today you carry on that work of love. Like them [bishops, priests, and religious of past generations], you are called to build bridges,
 to pasture Christ’s flock, and to prepare fresh paths for the Gospel in Asia at the dawn of a new age,” he said.

His heart's cry.

Sure, there are many who stand in opposition not just to Pope Francis’ words, but to his convictions, and we’re not on the authority to invalidate any of them. But what’s amazing is his fortitude, nonetheless.

Maybe the People’s Pope isn’t into the business of pleasing any person or institution, be it religious or not.

Maybe the only One he’s intent at pleasing is none other than God himself. And maybe, to accomplish that, he’s looking at Jesus Christ as the model.

In all of his homilies and speeches last January 16 and 17 the name Jesus alone was recorded to have been mentioned from his lips 25 times.

This Jesus Christ he’s referring to wasn’t the nicest person during his time. Yes he was gentle, forgiving, and understanding to the deviant, the sick, the oppressed, the condemned, and the sinful - who isn’t? But he also fearlessly spoke against the Pharisees, Sadducees, among others who were not just the religious authorities in the Jewish society that time, but those who held themselves in high esteem when it comes to holiness and righteousness.

Of course not everyone in the Jewish ruling council that time was part of those whom Jesus opposed; there was the Pharisee Nicodemus to whom, in their conversation, Jesus explained the most popular “For God so loved the world that

He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Maybe the reason Pope Francis isn’t repulsed by those with strange infirmities is because Jesus touched the sick and the social outcast
 with tender mercy. Maybe the pope cared for the Filipinos a lot because Jesus reached out to the non-Jews as well. Maybe the pope isn’t willing to judge and condemn the homosexuals and others is because Jesus didn’t condemn the prostitute caught red-handed either. And maybe he stressed his point of never neglecting the poor is because Jesus wouldn’t let anyone come home without having lunch either, regardless of the numbers of the grumbling stomachs.

But maybe, the reason the pontiff, despite his exalted position, still remained humble and compassionate is because Jesus didn’t allow people to make him king by force when he miraculously multiplied the five loaves of
 bread and the two pieces of fish, thereby satiating the 5,000 men who listened to his Sermon on the Mount, with the women and their children.

Indeed the pope, just like Jesus, knew whom to give all the glory to. That despite the Filipinos’ distinct trait of extreme fanaticism he didn’t gain any pride from all those Pope Francis mugs and Pope Francis shirts, not to mention those towels thrown at him.

“I’d like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw from Rome that catastrophe [typhoon Yolanda] I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you — a little bit late, but I’m here. I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord,” he told the Yolanda survivors in Tacloban.

Maybe, he still tells us that same thing too, right at this moment. ■ By Jesus L. Dawal, Jr./Aquinian Herald