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Why I hope Pope Francis visits the Philippines soon

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Why I hope Pope Francis visits the Philippines soon

/ 05:18 PM September 28, 2013

One of the best reactions to Pope Francis’s surprisingly open views on a range of social issues came from god.

Well, not the God. But the dude pretending to be the Almighty in the sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous Twitter account called ‘The Tweet of God.’

“Pope Francis is either the world’s coolest Pope, or the world’s most conservative hippie,” ‘god’ tweeted.

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He has a point.

For it’s still unclear what the pope’s statements in a recent interview will eventually mean for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, including roughly 100 million Filipinos.

But at a time when some Catholic leaders in the Philippines have shown that they wouldn’t mind taking the country back to the Middle Ages, Pope Francis’s views are refreshing.

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” he said in an interview that appeared in Jesuit magazines. “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”

The pope did not unveil any major shift in church policy. It wouldn’t be surprising if he later backtracks a bit to appease ultra-conservatives at the Vatican.

But as my fellow Inquirer.net columnist Luis Francia already pointed out, Pope Francis must be making the ultraconservatives of the Philippine Catholic hierarchy “hot under the collar.”

What’s even more exciting to think about is the influence Pope Francis can have on a more important group: young Filipinos.

That’s why I hope Pope Francis eventually makes his way to the Philippines.

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Popes are always a big hit when they visit our country. More than five million people, many of them young Filipinos, attended Pope John Paul II’s closing mass at the 1995 World Youth Day in Manila, said to be a world record for a papal gathering.

I remember my elder sister telling me how his teenage son and his friends rode their bikes from their home in Quezon City to the Luneta to attend the mass.

‘Naghahanap. They’re looking for direction,’ was how she described the young men who she said were searching for answers, and were hoping to get some from the leader of the Catholic church.

Can you imagine the impact of a pope who speaks out against “small-minded rules,” and who, when asked about his attitude toward gays, responds, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Pope Francis reminds me, in a way, of Pope John XXIII, the Vatican leader who shook up the Catholic world in the 60s and 70s by advocating church reforms based on the principles of social justice and equality.

As Penny Lernoux wrote in her book, “Cry of the People,” Pope John helped establish “two radically different principles: that the Church is of and with this world, not composed of some otherworldly body of celestial advocates, and that it is a community of equals, whether they be laity, priest or bishop, each with some gift to contribute and responsibility to have.”

The Vatican reforms under Pope John gave rise to a new kind of church activism in the Philippines and Latin America.

Pope Francis was not known to have been part of that movement. In fact, many saw him as being more aligned with the conservative wing of the Catholic hierarchy in the 70s and 80s. There have even been allegations that he supported right-wing regimes in Argentina.

It’s now harder to accept these accusations, especially after Pope Francis, in one of his first acts as head of the church, “unblocked” the sainthood cause for El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, one of Latin America’s most famous progressive priests.

Romero, an outspoken critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing regime in El Salvador, was assassinated while saying mass in 1980. He also was closely identified with the liberation theology movement inspired by the reforms under Pope John XXIII.

In the interview, Pope Francis’s response to his alleged right-wing sympathies also shows a church leader capable of drawing lessons from the past, particularly his own.

“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative,” he explained. “I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

“I found myself provincial (the Jesuit leader) when I was still very young,” he explained.” I was only 36 years old. That was crazy.”

I like this pope. And I really hope he visits the Philippines. Soon.

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TAGS: Catholic, Philippines, Pope Francis, Religion, Vatican
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