Shun those SUVs, local prelates urged
The election of Pope Francis is a sign that Church people in the Philippines should shun “luxurious” and “scandalous” lifestyles, like changing cars every so often, the executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) said Thursday.
Carmelite Fr. Marlon Lacal said the simple lifestyle of then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires was an example that should be followed by the clergy and religious in the country.
Bergoglio abandoned his episcopal palace in Buenos Aires for a simple apartment, cooked his own food and ditched his chauffeured limousine to take the bus or train to work.
In the Philippines, some bishops acknowledged receiving funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, an agency that supports projects for the poor, for the acquisition of vehicles, including SUVs.
An archbishop in Mindanao wrote then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asking for an SUV because it was his birthday. The archbishop said he needed a four-wheel drive for his visits to far-flung areas.
Shortly after his election on Wednesday night, Pope Francis shunned the papal limousine and rode on the last shuttle bus with other cardinals to go back to a residence inside the Vatican for a meal.
That showed his humble side, according to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who gave an insider’s look into the hours immediately after Bergoglio was elected.
Dolan said most of the cardinals had taken buses back to their residence in the Vatican and had lined up to greet the new Pope as he arrived for their last meal as a group.
They were expecting him to arrive in the limousine that they had seen waiting for him at the base of the Apostolic Palace.
“And as the last bus pulls up, guess who gets off? It’s Pope Francis. I guess he told the driver: ‘That’s OK, I’ll just go with the boys,’” Dolan told reporters at the American seminary in Rome, the North American College.
Living in poverty
Lacal pointed out that Bergoglio chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Francis of Assisi, the popular Italian saint who was known for turning his back on his family’s wealth and living in poverty.
“(Bergoglio’s) simple lifestyle is a good example for the Church to go back to the basics and live the simplicity of Christ. We should really live out our promise of poverty. I’m very happy that he chose the name Francis,” the AMRSP executive secretary said in an interview.
“That means you don’t accumulate wealth for yourself and don’t live in luxury, like changing cars again and again. That is scandalous,” Lacal added.
Cause of the poor
He said many religious in the Philippines practice a simple lifestyle, like taking public transportation, but others should avoid scandalizing the faithful with their behavior.
“We are also very happy that the Pope is a religious (or a member of a religious congregation) and he is the first Pope from Latin America,” Lacal said.
The Latin American Church, he said, was known to be progressive in calling out for social justice and taking up the cause of the poor.
Lacal said that Pope Francis had the skills and capability to clean up the Vatican bureaucracy, noting that he had served as the leader of the Jesuit community in Argentina when the military ruled the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“He is considered an outsider from the Vatican and so he can be objective in tackling the problems there. His election is a good sign after the calls for Church renewal,” Lacal said.
He also said that Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, would be more open to dialogue with other religions and nonbelievers.
“We know that Jesuits are not just good protectors of Church doctrine but are also very engaging and more open to dialogue,” Lacal said.
He said the Pope’s progressive stance on some political issues while he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires made AMRSP hopeful that he would be able to provide insight and leadership to the burning social justice issues of the day.
Lacal added that people disappointed that the new Pope was conservative on Church doctrine should not have been surprised.
“Many Church people, like us in the AMRSP, are active in social issues but we also understand that our leaders should preserve Church teachings and that the development of doctrine takes a lot of time,” he added.