Last Thursday, at the ungodly hour of four in the morning, my son, Francisco, woke me up to announce that we had a new pope. With a broad smile on his face, he added that “Francis” was the chosen name of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina. My initial reaction was to ask what time it was.
Now the whole world is talking about Pope Francis. He is unique for a number of reasons.
Pope Francis is the first non-European elected to the papacy since St. Gregory III, a Syrian, who died in 741. He is the first Jesuit to head the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first pope whose past included a girlfriend. The Argentine lady in the story recently made this revelation in an interview on CNN. It was a relationship involving very young people and ended when his life turned toward the Church.
It is only fitting that South America has produced the first non-European pontiff after St. Gregory III. By region, South America has the most number of Catholics (339 million) mainly from, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. However, by growth rates over a five-year period (2005-2010), it is Africa leading by 21 percent followed by Asia with 11 percent. The center of gravity of the Church is shifting away from Europe (Time Magazine, 2/25/13).
By the time Francis leaves office, there is a strong possibility that Asia may provide his successor with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, popularly known as “Chito” as one of the frontrunners, considering his youth and charisma. Actually there were two Argentinian cardinals in the running, Jorge Bergoglio and Leonardo Sandri. The older Bergoglio made it after five ballots.
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Saint Francis of Assisi.
When the new pope chose “Francis” as his name, many people thought he was referring to Saint Francis Xavier, who was also a Jesuit and is known as the Patron Saint of Foreign Missions for his work in spreading the faith particularly in India, Malacca, the Moluccas, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Japan. However, it was Saint Francis of Assisi that Cardinal Bergoglio had in mind.
Saint Francis of Assisi started life as a rich man’s son. He gradually became a religious humanitarian. For awhile, he served as a soldier but after a strange vision in a foreign land, he returned to Assisi where he avoided his old life of pleasure with rich friends. They asked him in jest if he was planning to marry. He replied, “Yes, to a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen (referring to Lady Poverty).” And he ended up giving away much of his inherited wealth. He went on to found three Orders: the Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis.
He created the first known “Nativity Scene,” using real animals so that worshippers could better appreciate the presentation in a direct manner, with their senses. Perhaps that is why he is revered as the Patron Saint of Animals. I recall that on his Feast Day on Oct. 4, the faithful would bring their pet animals to church and have them receive the priest’s blessings after Mass.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis to be the Patron Saint of the Ecology, reminding us that he was “an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation.”
This, in a nutshell, is a brief profile of the man that Pope Francis chose to emulate in his life.
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The word most often used in describing the new Pope is humility. Some observers noted that his first papal greeting from the balcony at the Vatican was given with one hand rather than both hands extended toward the people as was done by other popes before him.
In his first conference with media last week, Pope Francis spoke of the Church as a spiritual, not a political institution. This message must seep down to the local hierarchy. Whoever approved the idea behind the posters “Team Patay” and “Team Buhay” that were exhibited on a wall of San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City should now have second thoughts. The message that is being sent out by these signs is, to say the least, insensitive and inappropriate coming as they are from religious leaders. They drag down the instigators to the level of petty politicians.
Some naughty parishioners have come up with “Team Tatay.” It is a reaction that may only embarrass the Church or bring up unsavory developments. Last week, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled four sex abuse cases involving an ex-priest who molested more than 20 children over a span of 26 years. The settlement amounted to $10 million. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the abused among us will continue to remain silent forever.
Not all the religious personnel in the Diocese of Bacolod are happy with the controversial posters. Msgr. Victorino
Rivas, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and judicial vicar of the diocese, said it was a violation of the canon law to name candidates the Church opposes or favors. Although he was opposed to the Reproductive Health Law, he believed that it was “un-Christian and offensive” to tag candidates supporting the RH Law as members of Team Patay.
The news report by Carla Gomez of Inquirer Visayas went on to quote Rivas as saying that under canon law, the Church should not name candidates to support or reject because it was tantamount to taking part in partisan politics. Rivas has a doctorate in canon law. The report also said that other priests in the diocese shared his position.
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Victory over adversity.
Yesterday, the Philippine Military Academy held its 108th Commencement Exercises at Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City.
Cadet Jestony Arman Lanaha, son of a tuba gatherer from Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, bested 124 classmates of Class 2013 to graduate as valedictorian and win the coveted Presidential Sabre, symbol of excellence in all phases of endeavor as a cadet. He will be joining the Philippine Army.
The No. 2 graduate is Maryam Balais of La Trinidad, Benguet. She received the Vice Presidential Sabre from Vice President Jejomar Binay and will be joining the Philippine Navy.
Perhaps the most appreciated part of President Aquino’s speech was the one he almost forgot to deliver. Just as he was about to leave the lectern, he was reminded by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that he had signed an order of pardon for all cadets with offenses committed last year. (The pardon does not cover honor violations.) The President went back to make the announcement to the applause of the crowd.