Friday, March 15, 2013
FRANCIS: A POPE FOR THE TIMES
Every election of a new Pope augurs a fresh beginning for the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis is being closely scrutinized. The Faithful hang on his every word, every gesture to imagine the contours and colors of his papacy. From most accounts, Pope Francis has brought hope to a church rocked by scandal and facing huge challenges.
I can imagine friends like lawyer Arnedo Varela ecstatic over the rise of a Jesuit Pope. Or my daughter who was educated by Franciscan nuns. My brother had joked in a Facebook post that only the Dominicans weren’t in a celebratory mood (well, we brothers all did go to the University of Sto. Tomas for college so I guess we can joke about it).
Over the past days, I feel like I’ve pored over nearly every news report about Pope Francis. I was enthralled by accounts of his simplicity and humility, and his affection for the poor and the disenfranchised (I was especially struck reading how as archbishop of Buenos Aires he chastised priests who refused to baptize the children of unwed mothers).
It brought back my own experiences, growing up with the Salesians of Don Bosco who probably exerted the greatest spiritual impact on me. The Salesian order was established in the pits of the “industrial revolution” to help educate the sons of a growing army of unemployed, displaced and impoverished by the machines that were supposed to bring progress.
Many of the Salesian priests (at least during my years there) were Italians. They taught us how to play soccer until they succumbed to the Filipino addiction to basketball. They introduced us to those quixotic concepts of “free will” and “conscience”. We heard Mass three times a week (excluding the feast days), encouraged to avail of the Sacraments (one elderly priest who’d probably heard his share of confessions from young punks had come up with a list of sins so all we had to do was answer yes or no, then say our penance) and make ourselves always busy (one favorite motto – “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop) either through study or sports.
When I think of the Pope, I think of the church and when I do, I think of personal values – mine as well as those around me. Then I go back to what the Salesians taught me. For more than a decade and through some of my formative years, I saw them as the face of the Church.
The Church is facing difficult times. The sex abuse scandals, debate over contraception and gay marriage, allegations of financial mismanagement, growing secularism and radicalism within the church, and host of other troubles will have to be addressed by Pope Francis.
If his actions are any indication, Pope Francis intends to take the Church back to its “core competency” which is saving souls through the practice of simplicity, humility and above all, hope. He also talked about evangelization.
When Manila Archbishop Luis “Chito” Cardinal Tagle (who also happens to be Jesuit) visited Washington DC last year, he talked about the role of Filipinos in spreading Christ’s Gospel. He said the over 10 million Filipinos who now live and work in all corners of the globe are especially well-positioned to help spread “Filipino-style Catholicism” in their adopted communities.
While the Church can dictate dogma, for most of the Catholics I know, it is a deeply personal affair steeped in family and tradition that I believe are the hallmarks of “Filipino-style Catholicism”.
In Don Bosco, the priests imbibed a practice that I still carry on to this day; something that I can attest has never failed me. In the darkest days or the brightest, after tragedy or unexpected bounty or as an act of contrition, one “Our Father”, three “Hail Mary’s” and a “Glory Be” said alone, with a sincere heart for the Virgin Mary’s intercession convey our petitions to the Almighty.
If there was anything I learned from the Salesian fathers, it is the power of prayer and God’s love.
There, I believe, lies the church’s future. To teach the coming generations just as the Salesians had taught me. Life is simply too tough and complicated without the spiritual tools to steer us through. Through good works and better still, good example. I pray for Pope Francis because he bears the heavy burden of shepherding the church to a brighter future; because without it, I doubt we’d have one ourselves.