Philippine trip highlights pope’s tenacity, attention to details
By Cindy Wooden
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — New situations are opportunities to learn new things, even about the 78-year-old Pope Francis.
After two days of watching the pope tenaciously keep his appointments in the Philippines despite pouring rain Jan. 17-18, one lesson is that the papal wardrobe needs to be expanded to include rain gear.
A white umbrella — the usual Vatican response to a drizzle — is not adequate. And cancelling or moving an event indoors — the usual Vatican response to a heavy rain — is not acceptable to Pope Francis if his appointment is with thousands or even millions of predominantly poor people.
Then again, the clear yellow plastic poncho he donned over his chasuble for Mass Jan. 17 in Tacloban and again Jan. 18 for his ride in a converted jeepney popemobile Jan. 18 in Manila made him “one of the people,” which they liked. On social media, he was dubbed “ponchifex,” a play on the formal Twitter title, “pontifex.”
Pope Francis, the grandson of Italian immigrants, takes a typically Italian approach to weather: it requires protection. On sunny days in St. Peter’s Square, he urges — sometimes with an almost scolding look — parents to put hats on their children. On cold days, he wears a long white overcoat and asks parents of the underdressed where their children’s coats are. When a guard passes a baby to him on a cold day, he often adjusts the child’s coat or scarf to ensure proper bundling.
Much more importantly, Bishop Mylo Vergara of Pasig, head of the media committee for Pope Francis’ visit, said the wet and stormy weather — which included the approach of a category-two tropical storm in Tacloban — taught people how seriously Pope Francis takes his promises to the poor and suffering.
Because the pilots flying him to Tacloban, the area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, insisted he leave the area before 1 p.m., instead of the originally scheduled 5 p.m., he left Manila an hour early to get there, “he abbreviated everything, but he did all the events,” the bishop said.
“The pope is a pope of surprises, but God also surprised him,” the bishop said. The rain did not dampen the spirits of the people, and the pope did not let them down.
The Philippines trip also showed the energy the pope draws from crowds at mega events, while simultaneously being able to zoom in on micro details and bring the crowd with him.
Some 30,000 exuberant youths congregated in the rain Jan. 18 at the University of Santo Tomas. The pope gathered them and drew them into prayers for the 27-year-old Catholic Relief Services worker, Kristel Padasas, who died the day before after an accident at the Tacloban Mass site.
Two other elements at the youth gathering did not escape the pope’s eye for detail: first, the fact that of the four youths chosen to address him, only one was female — a situation he said should be rectified the next time a pope visits.
And, second: tears. People get emotional when a pope is around. Many are overcome with tears after even the most fleeting moment with the pope. But the tears shed by 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar were different. The pope honored the tears of the girl rescued from the streets and then helped the 30,000 youths present reflect on the role of tears in response to her suffering and the suffering of so many innocents.
“Certain realities in life can only be seen through eyes cleansed by tears,” the pope told them. And the only worthy response to questions about why God allows suffering is tears of compassion, he said.
Another thing people learned about Pope Francis — something Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said tipped him off — was that if the pope insists on having nearby Msgr. Mark Miles, a native of Gibraltar who works in the Secretariat of State, that means he will set aside his prepared text and speak from the heart, in Spanish. Msgr. Miles translates the pope’s words into English.
A smaller detail that the pope attended to is connected to his respect for popular piety, a respect born and nurtured in his native Argentina. He shares the common people’s tangible Marian devotion, which leads him to tenderly touch or kiss images of her, but also reflects a sense that Mary is “mama,” as he said at Santo Tomas, and one can grab on to her skirt when the going gets rough.
He blessed the statues of the Holy Child Jesus people carried with them to Mass in Manila Jan. 18, the Holy Child feast day in the Philippines. The pope was given a copy of the statue, which ended up being his backseat driver as he toured the crowds in the popemobile after Mass.
But he took care with an even smaller detail. After Communion, large tapers and tiny tea lights — whatever people brought with them — were lit as Pope Francis told the crowd: “Keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. Walk always as children of the light. This is the mission of every Christian: ‘lumina pandere,’ to spread the light and to tell the world of God’s love.”
After a song, altar servers took the pope’s taper from him, and he was handed his crozier for the final blessing. But the pope saw all the people still holding their candles, so he asked his master of ceremonies to give back his candle.
“With his crozier in one hand, he used the candle (in the other hand) to bless the community, symbolizing the fire, the light of God,” Cardinal Tagle said. “The Holy Father is attentive to little details. He notices a child, he notices something like this; he sees the significance of a candle having been lit and he incorporates it into the whole ritual, which is a gift.”
Pope, at Mass with millions, tells Filipinos to protect the family
By Francis X. Rocca
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Pope Francis told a crowd of an estimated 6 million gathered in a Manila park to protect the family “against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
The pope’s homily at the Jan. 18 Mass also reprised several other themes he had sounded during the four-day visit, including environmental problems, poverty and corruption.
Despite continuous rain, the congregation in Rizal Park began to assemble the night before the afternoon celebration. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila canceled other Masses throughout the archdiocese to enhance turnout. The crowd was so dense in spots that people passed hosts to fellow worshippers unable to reach priests distributing Communion.
The government estimated total crowd size at 6 million-7 million people. According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, that would be the largest number of people ever to gather to see a pope. A Mass with St. John Paul II in the same place 20 years earlier is believed to have drawn 4 million-5 million people, often described as the largest live crowd in history.
The Mass was celebrated on Santo Nino Day, or the feast of the Holy Child Jesus, one of the most popular feast days in the Philippines. Many of those who walked great distances down closed roads to get to Rizal Park held statues of Santo Nino.
For his final scheduled public talk in the country, Pope Francis stuck to his prepared English text and did not improvise in Spanish, as he had done at several emotional points during the visit. Yet his voice rose with emphasis during the passage about protecting the family.
Those words echoed his warning, during a Jan. 16 meeting with Filipino families, against “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family” through such practices as same-sex marriage and contraception.
In his homily, Pope Francis said Christians “need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”
The pope praised the Philippines, whose population is more than 80 percent Catholic, as the “foremost Catholic country in Asia,” and said its people, millions of whom work abroad, are “called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.”
Yet he warned the developing nation, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, against temptations of materialism, saying the devil “hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern, like everyone else. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink.”
Pope Francis, who had urged a group of young people earlier in the day to address the challenge of climate change through dedication to the environment, told Mass-goers human sinfulness had “disfigured (the) natural beauty” of creation.
Other consequences of sin, the pope said, were “social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption,” problems he had emphasized in his Jan. 16 speech at Manila’s presidential palace.
Typhoon survivors grateful pope braved tropical storm for Mass
By Simone Orendain Catholic News Service
TACLOBAN, Philippines (CNS) — Among more than 100,000 people who braved an approaching tropical storm and waited long hours to attend Mass with Pope Francis Jan. 17 were survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
John Tumama, 18, was shivering after being on the grounds near Tacloban airport for almost 18 hours.
Between fits of chattering, he told Catholic News Service, “It was touching … because … he came all the way here just to show, he c-, just, just to show that he cared for us.”
Tumama said his family in Tacloban lost everything when Haiyan’s tsunami-like storm surges swept through. He and his college classmates went to the Mass together and said it was well worth the wait.
A classmate, Jude Vencent Morado, swam to safety during the typhoon. He is a biomedical sciences major and was busy doing schoolwork when the storm struck and he got separated from his family.
“My heart was pounding about my parents, my family, because I was far from them. … It was extremely hard and difficult to think, how are they (doing over) there,” he told CNS at the Mass site. “So the message of the pope really inspires me. It brings back the message to do what God wants, (which is) to reflect on ourselves and go back to the Lord.”
Pope Francis urged the faithful to look to Jesus, telling them: “He is the Lord. He understands us because he suffered through many tests that we ourselves have suffered.” At times the wind was so strong it sounded like thunder coming through the pope’s microphone.
After Haiyan, Nilda Jamora got two large gashes on her leg after she was slammed into a canal by floods from a 15-foot storm surge.
“It was very touching, and I’ve been crying even without the words yet,” Jamora said after the Mass. “Just (Pope Francis) getting out of the plane and when he passed through with the motorcade in this area … I’ve been crying because of his presence in spite of this bad weather.”
Some of the country’s Cabinet secretaries attended the Mass, and Sonny Coloma, secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, told CNS the pope’s appearance was by “divine design.”
“I think the rain, the cold, the challenge of an ongoing typhoon really made it more meaningful,” he said. “Because everyone that stood there, everyone that stayed really wanted to make it happen and the key person in this event, the bringer of glad tidings, also wanted to make it happen. That’s why it happened.”
The Mass was celebrated in Tacloban, which took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it was known in the Philippines. The storm left 7,300 dead or missing, destroyed 1.1 million houses and left millions jobless.
Pope urges Filipino families: Dream, resist ‘ideological colonization’
By Francis X. Rocca
PASAY CITY, Philippines (CNS) — Pope Francis urged Catholic families to dream of how they might fulfill the will of God, while resisting “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family” through such practices contraception and same-sex marriage.
The pope spoke Jan. 16 to a meeting of families at the Mall of Asia Arena, which was filled to its capacity of 20,000 people. The arena reverberated with people crying out “We love you Lolo Kiko” (Grandpa Kiko, the Filipino nickname for Francisco) as the pope walked the red carpet, stopping to touch the faithful and bless families who were among those representing the 86 dioceses of the country.
Commenting on a reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which St. Joseph twice learns God’s will for the Holy Family from an angel in a dream, Pope Francis said dreaming could serve an analogous purpose in ordinary Christian families.
“I very much like this idea of dreaming in a family,” the pope said. “Every mother and father dreams of their son or daughter in the womb for nine months. Isn’t that true? You dream of how your son or daughter might be. It isn’t possible to have a family without such dreams. When you lose this capacity to dream, you lose the capacity and energy to love.”
Pope Francis said such dreaming could provide solutions to family problems and reveal the good qualities of one’s husband or wife. Then he added, to much laughter from the audience: “Don’t ever lose the dream of when you were boyfriend and girlfriend. Very important, that.”
But the pope noted that St. Joseph’s dreams also revealed the “dangers which threatened Jesus and Mary, forcing them to flee to Egypt and then to settle in Nazareth. So too, in our time, God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm.”
First among these dangers, Pope Francis said, was what he called an “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family.”
“It is not born of the dream that we have with God from prayer, or from the mission that God gives us; it comes from outside, and that’s why I say it is colonization,” the pope said, adding that it referred to “materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality.”
Pope Francis went on to say that the “family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
The pope praised Blessed Paul VI for his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which affirmed Catholic moral teaching against contraception, though he noted that it also instructed confessors to show “compassion in particular cases” of penitents who had failed to follow the teaching.
Blessed Paul “saw the threat of the destruction of the family by depriving it of children. Paul VI was courageous, he was a good pastor, and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching.”
In 2012, the Philippine government passed a “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act,” providing for government funding of contraception.
Discussing the term “ideological colonization” with reporters after the event, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila noted that African bishops had told him foreign aid to their countries was sometimes offered on the condition that they accept “alien” views of sexuality and marriage.
At the arena, the Argentine-born pope invoked the rhetoric of anti-imperialist revolution to encourage his Asian listeners: “Just as our peoples arrived at the maturity to say no in the period of colonization, we families have to be very wise and strong, with the fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family.”
Pope Francis called on Catholic families to be “sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life, from conception to natural death.”
The pope also urged the audience to care for the needy, particularly orphans and the elderly, offering as inspiration a home for rescued street children he had visited earlier the same day.
During his talk, the pope repeatedly departed from his prepared English text to improvise in his native Spanish, communicating with the audience with the aid of an interpreter. The references to dreaming and ideological colonization occurred when he was speaking off the cuff.
“It is really a timely reminder from the Holy Father,” said Arnel Santos of Cainta, Philippines. “That to be able to recapture our capacity to dream for our families again we should be resting in the Lord. That means to pray always.”
Santos and his wife have busy schedules as attorneys also raising two children. He told CNS they “pursue (their) profession a lot,” and it became easy over 18 years of marriage to “lose sight of the essentials.”
Parents pursuing careers and also trying to get better-paying work overseas has been a major concern of the church in the Philippines, and the pope heard from one woman whose family has been virtually split since the third year of her marriage.
Ediza Pumarada has been married to her husband, who works in Singapore, for 22 years.
“The psychological and emotional burdens were difficult to bear in spite of the earnings that working abroad brought our family,” she said in a speech.
“Homesickness and loneliness set in. My adjustments as a wife, left alone to take care of our daughter, assuming both the roles of being father and the mother for her, was a real challenge for me. Keeping our loving relationship and our trust for each other, in spite of our separation, was even more challenging.”
The pope also heard from a deaf husband, whose wife is also deaf. The man spoke of the difficulties of living in virtual isolation, if not for the help they received from their hearing children, who often sign for them.
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Contributing to this story was Simone Orendain.
Surprise papal meeting with former street kids features songs, hugs
By Cindy Wooden
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Pope Francis did not disappoint hundreds of former street children who were part of a massive campaign to show him one of the centers where they have found safety and love.
Although it was not in his official program, Pope Francis walked out of Manila’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral after Mass Jan. 16 and across the street to the Blessed Charles de Foucauld Home for Girls, which is run by the Tulay Ng Kabataan foundation.
Accompanied by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a frequent guest, the pope spent about half an hour with some 320 boys and girls and young adults from a number of TNK homes in metropolitan Manila.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful encounter,” Cardinal Tagle told reporters later. “You could see the Holy Father was in his element.”
The cardinal translated for the pope as several of the children approached and shared their stories, stories that often included horrible experiences of exploitation and abuse when they lived on the streets.
“You could see the attentiveness of the pope,” he said. Getting emotional himself, the cardinal said that, as he listened, the pope’s “eyes were getting cloudy and beginning to fill with tears. You could see he was trying to show his affection to the children, but at the same time trying to fathom these deep wounds and pain.”
When the children came up to touch and to hug the pope, he said, Pope Francis whispered to him that it was clear they yearned for a loving human touch, “the touch of a parent.”
The pope “assured the children that they are loved by God, that God is with them, and that they should not forget that.”
In a text message reply to questions, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the visit featured “songs, kisses and hugs. And a blessing.”
“These children — the poorest among the poor — are for sure the most vulnerable victims of our society, but they remain masters of joy, as one can see on their smiling faces,” the foundation’s director, 39-year-old Father Matthieu Dauchez, told Pope Francis.
In a statement issued after the visit, the center said that by taking the time to meet “many children who faced horrors of the street like begging, violence, drugs (and) prostitution,” Pope Francis demonstrated “that he is the pope of the forgotten.”
“This is awesome,” the statement quoted 10-year-old Alvin as saying. “He gave me a huge warm hug!”
Transform yourselves to transform world, pope tells Philippine clergy
By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — The Gospel has the power to transform society, ensuring justice and care for the poor, but that can happen only if Christians — beginning with the church’s ministers — allow the Gospel to transform them, Pope Francis said.
At the beginning of a Mass Jan. 16 with Philippine bishops, priests and religious in Manila’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Pope Francis led the congregation in a special penitential rite to ask forgiveness for ways they have failed to live up to the high ideals of their promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Pope Francis introduced the rite with a prayer: “Unworthy though we are, God loves us and has given us a share in his Son’s mission as members of his body, the church.
“Let us thank and glorify God for his great love and infinite compassion,” the pope prayed. “Let us beg for his forgiveness for failing to be faithful to his love. And let us ask for the strength to be true to our calling: to be God’s faithful witnesses in the world.”
To the delight of the congregation, Pope Francis demonstrated that he was not simply reading English, but understood it. The prepared text of his homily began with Jesus’ words to St. Peter, “Do you love me?”
Someone close to the front of the cathedral responded yes. The pope, laughing, responded, “Thank you,” then explained, “I was reading the words of Jesus.”
Starting again, the pope said Jesus’ words to the Apostle, “Do you love me? … Tend my sheep,” are a reminder of “something essential: All pastoral ministry is born of love. All consecrated life is a sign of Christ’s reconciling love.”
“Each of us is called, in some way, to be love in the heart of the church,” the pope said.
With almost a quarter of the country’s population living in poverty, with their exposure to typhoons, floods and earthquakes, and with a government plagued by corruption scandals, he said, the church must “acknowledge and combat the causes of the deeply rooted inequality and injustice which mar the face of Filipino society, plainly contradicting the teaching of Christ.”
Individual Christians must “live lives of honesty, integrity and concern for the common good,” he said, but they also must create “networks of solidarity which can expand to embrace and transform society by their prophetic witness.”
Departing from his prepared text, the pope said: “The poor. The poor are the center of the Gospel, are at the heart of the Gospel. If we take away the poor from the Gospel, we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.”
Preaching the Gospel, he said, requires living it. “How can we proclaim the newness and liberating power of the cross to others if we ourselves refuse to allow the word of God to shake our complacency, our fear of change, our petty compromises with the ways of this world, our ‘spiritual worldliness?'”
Materialism is a danger that creeps into people’s lives, even the lives of priests and religious, he said. “Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters.”
Although several elderly priests and religious were present — and were greeted by the pope during the sign of peace — many in the congregation were still in their 20s, and Pope Francis gave them a special commission to reach out to their peers.
Financial and social-political difficulties have left many young Filipinos “broken in spirit, tempted to give up, to leave school and to live on the streets,” the pope said. Young church workers have a special obligation to be close to their peers because, despite everything, they “continue to see the church as their friend on the journey and a source of hope.”
He also urged the seminarians, young priests and religious to “proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.”
“As you know,” he said, “these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, greeting the pope at the end of the Mass, told him the cathedral had been repeatedly destroyed by fires, earthquakes and during war. “But it refuses to vanish. It boldly rises from the ruins — just like the Filipino people,” he said.
“The Filipino has two treasures: music and faith, ‘la musica e la fede,” the cardinal told him in English and Italian. “Our melodies make our spirits soar above the tragedies of life. Our faith makes us stand up again and again after deadly fires, earthquakes, typhoons and wars.”
“We welcome you, successor of Peter, to this blessed land of untiring hope, of infinite music and of joyful faith,” the cardinal told the pope. “With your visit, we know Jesus will renew and rebuild his church in the Philippines.”
Although the Mass was for bishops, priests and religious, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the cathedral, watching the Mass on large video screens set up on the cathedral steps.
Pope, in Philippines, says same-sex marriage threatens family
By Francis X. Rocca
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Appealing to the traditional values of Filipino Catholic families, Pope Francis made one of his strongest calls as pope against movements to recognize same-sex unions as marriage.
“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” the pope said Jan. 16, hours after warning that Philippine society was “tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.”
“As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture,” he said.
Pope Francis made his remarks at a Mass in Manila’s cathedral and then at a meeting with families in the city’s Mall of Asia Arena.
At the latter event, the pope called on his listeners to resist “ideological colonization that threatens the family.” The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said later that the pope was referring to same-sex marriage, among other practices.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who was present at the reporters’ briefing, cited claims by African bishops that foreign aid to their countries is sometimes offered on the condition that they accept “alien” views of sexuality and marriage.
Civil law in the Philippines does not recognize marriages or unions between people of the same sex.
The pope’s comments came less than a week after a speech to Vatican diplomats in which he criticized “legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole,” saying that such legislation had contributed to a widespread sense of the family as “disposable.”
In November, Pope Francis told an interreligious conference on traditional marriage that preserving the family as an institution based on marriage between a man and a woman is not a political cause but a matter of “human ecology,” since “children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jose Maria Bergoglio opposed same-sex marriage in Argentina, calling it an “anti-value and an anthropological regression” and “destructive of the plan of God,” and writing that it expressed the “envy of the devil.” But he did not repeat such statements following his election as pope.
When asked why he had not spoken about Brazil’s legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage during his July 2013 trip to the country, the pope said the “church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it.”
In an interview published in September 2013, Pope Francis told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
The pope’s latest statements come during a year of preparation for the October 2015 world Synod of Bishops on the family, following an October 2014 extraordinary synod on the same topic.
At the earlier gathering, a midterm report stirred controversy with remarkably conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions. While such unions present unspecified “moral problems,” the document stated, they can exemplify “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice (that) constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”
That language was absent from the final report, which quoted a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
In a December interview with Argentine journalist Elisabetta Pique, Pope Francis described the midterm report as “merely a first draft,” and said it had mentioned “positive factors” of same-sex unions in an effort to help families support their gay members.
“Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod; it did not cross our minds,” the pope said.
Exuberant crowds greet pope in unofficial welcome to Philippines
By Cindy Wooden
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Although it was not called a welcoming ceremony, Pope Francis was greeted by government and church officials and an exuberant crowd Jan. 15 at Manila’s Villamor Air Base.
The pope arrived 13 minutes earlier than scheduled at the base near Manila’s international airport following a six-hour flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, over Vietnam and the South China Sea.
The pope’s evening arrival after such a long flight led trip organizers to schedule the formal welcoming ceremony for the next morning.
The speeches that are normally part of the formal ceremony were missing, as was the pope’s zucchetto. Almost as soon as he stepped out of the doors of the plane, a gust of wind blew his white skullcap away. He did get it back, eventually.
President Benigno Aquino III was on hand, as were young people from 19 different schools who choreographed a greeting with dancing and tumbling; they also used blue, red, white and yellow umbrellas to re-create the Philippine flag.
A young boy wearing the traditional barong shirt and a young girl wearing the traditional terno dress with its butterfly sleeves gave the pope flowers and a hug after he descended the stairs from the Sri Lankan Airlines plane.
After a five-minute meeting with President Aquino in the airport VIP lounge, Pope Francis traveled by popemobile the 5.6 miles from the air base to the Vatican nunciature, where he was to stay Jan. 15-19.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route, often waiting hours for their quick glimpse of Pope Francis. While darkness fell over the city, the interior of the popemobile was lighted so people could see the pope standing and waving to them. The trip to the nunciature took just under 40 minutes.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said as the popemobile and the pope’s entourage set out from the airport he thought, “tens of thousands, then a hundred thousand,” but he realized it was “many hundreds of thousands” of people lining the streets to see the pope.
“The pope is in good health,” Father Lombardi assured reporters. “Obviously, he comes here after four days of journeying and intense activity.”
“But the pope has a charism,” he said. “If the pope sees people, if he is with people, as a pastor he draws energy from the people around him. … He seems to be encouraged and inspired and helped by the faith of the people present. In this sense, you will see he has new energy, even if he was tired before.”
A woman in the crowd, who had no idea what Father Lombardi was about to say, basically said the same thing.
As the popemobile approached, Marietta de la Cruz and her two adult children shouted, “We love you! Pope Francis!”
“He turned around and looked. It was so nice,” De la Cruz said. “We were surprised because we all know he’s only human and he gets tired. But what I noticed was he didn’t even look tired. He was smiling at us.”
In the early evening darkness, with the air hot and humid, the De la Cruz family was among thousands waiting restlessly for the pope’s arrival. A few left their posts along the street to check the pope’s progress on a television set at a bakery around the corner. But as the pope approached, everyone returned to the street. The buzz of chatter turned into screams and squeals of delight. Suddenly the pope was there.
The spokesman said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who rode in the popemobile with Pope Francis, said the pope told him, “The Holy Spirit has to work in these days for all these people, in the depths of their hearts, and to give them the grace they are expecting.”
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Contributing to this story was Simone Orendain.
Pope says respect for religion should limit freedom of expression
By Francis X. Rocca
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.
The pope made his remarks Jan. 15 to reporters accompanying him on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. During the 50-minute news conference, the pope also said his encyclical on the environment likely will be published early this summer, and that he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary to North America, in the U.S. this September.
Asked by a French reporter to compare freedom of religion and freedom of expression as human rights, Pope Francis linked his answer to the Jan. 7 attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, apparently in retaliation for the newspaper’s publication of cartoons mocking Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
“Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly,” the pope said. “One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”
The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense.”
Offering a hypothetical example that referred to the Vatican’s planner of papal trips, who was standing beside him as he spoke, the pope said: “It’s true, one cannot react violently, but if Dr. (Alberto) Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”
The pope said those who “make fun or toy with other people’s religions, these people provoke, and there can happen what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit. Every religion has its dignity.”
Regarding reported terrorist threats to his own life, the pope said he was not courageous in facing pain but had a “healthy dose of obliviousness” to his own safety. He acknowledged that his situation poses dangers to the crowds of faithful around him, and said his security detail was keeping him informed and taking “prudent” precautions.
Asked about his widely awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis said the document had already been through three drafts by a team under Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State and the theologian of the papal household.
“Now I’ll take a week out in March to look at it. At the end of March, I think it will be completed. Then it will go to be translated. I think that if the translations go well, in June or July, it could come out,” the pope said.
Pope Francis said it was important the encyclical come out soon enough to influence a global climate change summit scheduled to open Nov. 30 in Paris, where he hoped leaders would show more courage on the subject than in the past.
While not explicitly replying to a question about the influence of human activity on climate change, the pope echoed earlier criticisms of man-made damage to the environment through such practices as deforestation and overexploitation of agricultural lands.
The pope opened the news conference with an unsolicited statement about his decision to canonize St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary to Sri Lanka, without going through the usual process, including verification of a second miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession. Pope Francis said St. Joseph was one of a series of great evangelists whom he planned to canonize without such preliminaries, in an effort to celebrate the practice of evangelization.
“Now in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the west in the United States,” the pope said.
The pope has confirmed he will visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September, and has suggested he might travel to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City on the same trip, but no itinerary has been released. His announcement of Blessed Junipero’s canonization is bound to raise expectations that he will also visit the southwestern U.S. The Franciscan priest established dozens of missions in what is now California and Mexico.
Regarding his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis said his focus there would be on poor people: “the poor who want to get ahead, the poor who have suffered through Typhoon Haiyan and are still suffering the consequences, the poor who have faith and hope.” The pope was scheduled to travel Jan.17 to Tacloban, in the central part of the country, which was especially hard hit by the typhoon in November 2013.
In Madhu, pope tells Sri Lankans reconciliation requires repentance
By Francis X. Rocca
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Pope Francis told Sri Lankans seeking reconciliation after two-and-a-half decades of civil war that, before they can forgive each other, they must repent of their own sins.
“Only when we come to understand, in light of the cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance. Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness,” the pope said Jan. 14, during a prayer service in the northern jungle town of Madhu.
The pope had traveled 160 miles in a helicopter from the capital city of Colombo to visit the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, which houses a statue of Mary venerated by Sri Lankans since the 16th century.
During the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels from the country’s Tamil minority, which ended in 2009, both sides recognized the area around the shrine as a demilitarized zone, which served as a sanctuary for thousands of war refugees. However, in 2008, the historic statue had to be removed temporarily from the shrine when it came under crossfire.
The 300,000 people assembled for the pope’s visit included families who had lost members during what he described as a “long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka.”
Pope Francis invoked Mary, who “forgave her son’s killers at the foot of the cross,” saying she would guide the country to “greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God’s pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”
He described the shrine as “our mother’s house,” where “every pilgrim can feel at home,” and where members of the country’s two main ethnic groups, “Tamil and Sinhalese alike, come as members of one family.”
“Just as her statue came back to her shrine of Madhu after the war, so we pray that all her Sri Lankan sons and daughters may come home to God in a renewed spirit of reconciliation and fellowship,” the pope said.
Later, Father S. Emalianuspillai, rector of the Madhu shrine, described the pope’s three-hour visit as “wonderful and amazing. Everyone one was thrilled and excited with the visit of the Holy Father to this far-off shrine.
“It will help the renewal of faith and strengthen our people in their spiritual lives,” he said.
After landing at Madhu, the pope rode a mile to the shrine in a popemobile, then spent half an hour greeting devotees. He also blessed a group of 2,000 sick and disabled people, including many who had been injured during the war.
The prayer service stressed national unity, with prayers in both the Tamil and Sinhalese languages. The short Bible reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew blessed mourners, peacemakers and victims of persecution. Pope Francis also released a dove as a sign of peace.
At the end of the liturgy, Pope Francis raised the statue to bless the crowd with it, then placed a rosary around its neck as an offering. He went inside for a few minutes of private devotion before leaving for the helipad.
After returning to Colombo, the pope paid an unscheduled visit to a Buddhist temple at the headquarters of the Maha Bodhi Society, responding to an invitation he had received the previous day from its head priest, the Venerable Banagala Upatissa.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope removed his shoes to enter the temple, where he was given a rare look at some relics of two disciples of the Buddha and listened while some monks prayed.
Asked if the pope himself had prayed, Father Lombardi said there had been no moment of silence during the visit, which he described as relaxed and “not a particularly solemn occasion.”
It was at least the second time a pope had visited a Buddhist temple, following St. John Paul II’s visit to a temple in Bangkok in 1984.
The Madhu pilgrimage was the pope’s last major public event over two days in Sri Lanka and reinforced his calls to reconciliation the day before, in speeches to President Maithripala Sirisena and at a meeting with other religious leaders. Pope Francis was scheduled to leave for the Philippines early Jan. 15.
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Contributing was Anto Akkara.
Pope proclaims Sri Lanka’s first saint, right to religious freedom
By Francis X. Rocca
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Canonizing Sri Lanka’s first saint, who ministered to Catholics under persecution three centuries earlier, Pope Francis proclaimed what he called the “fundamental human right” of religious freedom.
“Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion,” the pope said Jan. 14, before a congregation of more than 500,000 in a beachfront park on the Indian Ocean.
Pope Francis gave his homily half an hour after canonizing St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary from India who rebuilt the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka after its suppression by Dutch Protestant colonists.
The pope called on Catholics today to emulate the new saint by spreading the Gospel with “missionary zeal.”
“St. Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multireligious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility,” the pope said. “We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage of St. Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.”
Noting that St. Joseph had won the support of a Buddhist king by caring for victims of a smallpox epidemic, and thus “was allowed greater freedom to minister,” the pope praised today’s Sri Lankan Catholics, who make up only 7 percent of the population, for their charitable service to their neighbors.
The church in Sri Lanka today “makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics and many other charitable works. All she asks is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he said.
“As the life of St. Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”
The canonization Mass reflected the multicultural character of Sri Lankan society. The pope celebrated the liturgy in English and Latin, but there were readings in the local languages of Tamil and Sinhalese. Drums and sitars accompanied the choir, and dancers in traditional costume performed before the start of Mass. The altar was housed in a structure whose peaked roof recalled the Buddhist temple architecture of Kandy, the central region of the country where St. Joseph won acceptance for his ministry.
Temperatures and humidity levels were both in the high 70s and attendants held umbrellas over priests as they distributed Communion.
As the canonization service began, a black wooden cross was carried in solemn procession. The cross was one that St. Joseph had planted in one of the churches; it has been preserved in the church in Sri Lanka’s North Western province.
“There is no trace of St. Vaz’s tomb. The only big relic we have is this cross. Wherever he went, he installed crosses,” Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesman for the papal visit, told Catholic News Service.
At the end of Mass, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo addressed the pope, thanking him for the new saint, “God’s precious gem for Sri Lanka.”
Cardinal Ranjith also asked for Pope Francis’ blessing and guidance in the search for reconciliation after Sri Lanka’s two-and-a-half decade civil war between government forces and rebels from the Tamil-Hindu minority, which ended in 2009.
“We call upon you to kindly help us in that search for a true healing of hearts, the strength to ask pardon from each other for the senseless violence unleashed then, to forgive and forget that sad past and to arrive at a process of a give and take to build bridges of understanding between the parties hurt in the conflict. We are still far from reaching that goal,” the cardinal said.
“Our nation, blessed by teachings of the great world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, does possess the moral and spiritual strength and nobility needed to generate such peace, but we will all need to make that leap toward each other with a genuine spirit of reconciliation, trust and a sense of reciprocity,” the cardinal said.
As Pope Francis gave the final blessing, people held aloft items, such as rosaries or statues; a deaf girl lifted a portrait of the new saint.
Soon after the pope left, priests swarmed the elevated altar and posed around the wood-carved statue of St. Joseph as Sri Lankan and papal flags fluttered around it.
The Mass was Pope Francis’ first public event on his second day in Sri Lanka. In the afternoon, he traveled by helicopter to the northern town of Madhu for a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine that sheltered refugees during the civil war. He was scheduled to fly to the Philippines the next day.
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Contributing to this story was Anto Akkara.
Pope to Sri Lankans: Reconciliation means dialogue, ‘pursuit of truth’
By Francis X. Rocca
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Arriving in Sri Lanka, a country recovering from two-and-a-half decades of ethnic and religious civil war, Pope Francis said reconciliation would require its people to explore their painful recent history and accept persistent differences within their multicultural society.
“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity,” the pope said Jan. 13 at an arrival ceremony at Colombo’s international airport.
Pope Francis addressed his words to Sri Lanka’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected Jan. 8 and sworn in the next day. During his campaign, Sirisena promised an independent investigation into war crimes allegedly committed during the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels belonging to the country’s Tamil minority.
In his remarks to the pope, Sirisena noted that during the last papal visit, by St. John Paul II in 1995, “Sri Lanka was embroiled in annihilating terrorism, following the mayhem caused by the terrorists in the daily lives of the people” — a reference to the Tamil Tigers, finally defeated in 2009 by the military under Sirisena’s predecessor, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The war divided Sri Lanka along religious as well as ethnic lines, since members of the Sinhalese majority are typically Buddhist, and Tamils for the most part Hindu. Catholics, who make up 7 percent of the country’s population, include members of both ethnic groups. Rajapaksa, who sought re-election Jan. 8, had his political base in the country’s Sinhalese-Buddhist majority. Sirisena enjoys more support among minorities.
“Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years,” Pope Francis said, his voice hoarse and weary-sounding after the 10-hour flight from Rome. “I am convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding which is taking place in this country.”
That afternoon, the pope met with local Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other Christian leaders, telling them that efforts at “interreligious and ecumenical relations take on a particular significance and urgency in Sri Lanka,” as sources of “healing and unity” after years of “civil strife and violence.”
Again, he sounded a note of realism, stressing that dialogue could not eliminate cultural differences but would emphasize the need for their acceptance.
“For such dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions. Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common,” the pope said. “Men and women do not have to forsake their identity, whether ethnic or religious, in order to live in harmony.”
The pope urged followers of different religions to cooperate in social service, providing for the “material and spiritual needs of the poor, the destitute” and thus “rebuild the moral foundations of society as a whole.”
At the interreligious meeting, held at a Colombo conference centers, a Hindu leader, speaking the Tamil language, voiced hopes for lasting peace and draped a saffron silk shawl over Pope Francis’ shoulders.
A representative of the local Muslim community condemned “terrorism, racism, extremism,” including recent killings by Islamist militants at a Paris newspaper and a military-run school in Pakistan.
A Buddhist monk, representing the faith of 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, noted the common dedication of great religions to the values of love, self-sacrifice and peace, as well as the common susceptibility of humanity to hatred and violence.
Pope Francis’ first day in Sri Lanka started when his plane from Rome landed at 9 a.m. He was greeted by traditional dancers and drummers, a 21-gun salute and a choir of teenagers who sang a song of welcome in English, the same language the pope and Sirisena used for their remarks. Girls in white dresses and boys in neckties and shorts waved gold-and-white Vatican flags. Nearby stood 40 elephants draped in colorful fabrics, a traditional gesture of honor for distinguished guests.
The pope’s entourage, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, wore white cassocks, keeping with the ecclesiastical custom in tropical climates. Temperatures were in the 80s in the bright sunshine.
The pope rode the 17-mile distance to the nuncio’s residence in an open-sided popemobile past crowds waving Vatican flags. A persistent breeze made it impossible for him to keep his zucchetto on for much of the ride. Because the pope made frequent stops to greet and bless individuals along the way, his ride took twice as long as expected, leading him to cancel a meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops planned for early afternoon.
The day marked the start of Pope Francis’ second trip to Asia, following a visit to South Korea in August. He was scheduled to spend two full days in Sri Lanka, before flying to the Philippines Jan. 15.The highlights of the Sri Lanka leg were expected to be the Jan. 14 canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz as the country’s first saint and, later the same day, a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which served as a sanctuary for refugees during the civil war.
Sri Lankans, Indians line road to catch glimpse of Pope Francis
By Anto Akkara
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Sri Lankans and Indians got up early to line the 17-mile route from the airport to downtown, in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Pope Francis.
Hundreds of schoolchildren lined the roadside; nuns and elderly women were brought in wheelchairs to join the crowd on the roadside. The pope’s welcoming ceremony at the airport was broadcast over loudspeakers for them to hear.
Two hours before the papal convoy reached Borelle Junction, a mile away from the nunciature, thousands of Catholics had occupied positions to have a close glimpse of the Holy Father.
Many came with umbrellas to stand in hot and humid weather, while most of them carried colorful flags with portraits of the pope. Some held rosaries.
“Better to be early than miss a chance of a lifetime to see the pope from close,” Mary Perera, a Catholic schoolteacher, told Catholic News Service.
“I wanted to make sure that I am here before the traffic closed,” Perera added as she stood under an umbrella with her Catholic neighbors.
“The visit of the pope to Sri Lanka is a blessing. I wanted to see the pope as closely as possible,” said Selvan Perumal, a Catholic businessman. He was dressed for the occasion with a papal flag on his Panama hat.
“We are in Sri Lanka for two reasons: to see the pope and attend the canonization of Blessed Vaz. He is our saint,” said Menino Carvalho, who traveled from Goa state in India.
Thousands of Indian Catholics, mostly Goans, came to Sri Lanka for the papal visit at which Blessed Joseph Vaz, originally from the former Portuguese colony of Goa, was to be canonized.
Indian contingents could be seen carrying giant national flags as they waited for Pope Francis. When the pope passed by in his popemobile, people waved their flags.
“Seeing the pope is a dream for Catholics. That’s the second reason I decided to come to Sri Lanka,” said Carvalho, a retired government official accompanied by his wife.
Outside Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith’s residence, the crowd around the gate refused to obey the police directive to disperse. They wanted to have a second glimpse of Pope Francis, who was scheduled to meet with Sri Lankan bishops; that meeting was canceled because the pope was running behind schedule.
Hundreds of people, including mothers carrying babies, held their positions as the police trying to push them farther away.
“I won’t move,” Maud De Silva, 74, told the police officials when they tried to push her away from the gate.
“I have been here (since) 5:30 a.m., and I will go only after meeting the pope once again,” she said, holding her papal flag and wearing a badge with a photo of Pope Francis.
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