MANILA, Philippines — The predominantly-Catholic Philippines has felt the “ripple effect” of Pope Francis who recently made the cover of an iconic rock magazine Rolling Stone.
“Indeed, Pope Francis’ ripples have reached the Philippines too. Greater fire to share the faith. (It has) increased church attendance,” Catholic Bishops Conference of Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villages said.
The Argentinian-born pope was the recent cover of the Rolling Stone Magazine, which usually features icons of American pop culture.
The “rock star” pontiff as described in the social media in the Philippines was hailed for simple lifestyle and his opinions on homosexuality and real world economic issues in contrast to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
But Villegas, who had recently assumed the leadership of the 120-strong collegial body of bishops just last month, criticized the magazine saying it could not be treated as responsible journalism.
“It praises Pope Francis at the expense of Pope Benedict. We should not bring down one to glorify another,” Villegas said.
But still Catholic officials admitted that, the pope made an impact in the prelates and the laity in the Philippines.
In a separate interview, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said even the prelates were struck by Pope Francis’ “simplicity.”
“I listen to him speak at tinatamaan din ako. (and I am struck). I decided to give away some of my shoes, some of the things I don’t need. A lot of priests and bishops would also say that,” Cruz, who has been vocal about his opinions in politics, said in a phone interview.
He described the pope as a “cowboy” who has been brave to institute changes in the Vatican. One of his moves is his decision to limit the honor of “monsignor” among diocesan priests to those at least 65 years old, which others see as the Pope’s tack in reducing careerism and elitism among priests.
The pope’s stand on world economic issues, Cruz said, could also influence the Catholic Church to emphasize social doctrine.
In a recent pastoral letter, the CBCP slammed the “economy of exclusion” in the Philippines, calling the perennial poverty “scandalous.”
On the increased church attendance, Villegas noted that the Church, aside from wanting to see more people joining the holy Masses, would like people to improve the quality of their faith and spiritual life.
“The bigger question is ‘Are people growing closer to God?’ We have more people joining processions and falling in line for communion but ‘Are they becoming, living, loving like Jesus?'” Villegas said.
He said the number of churchgoers could only give an illusion of an active Church.
“But the real focus must be an individual personal intimacy with God. The verifiable indicators of a revitalized Church will be honest governance, citizenship with integrity, care for environment and business for common good not just for the capitalist,” he said.