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Commentary

Meetings for the Pope

02:38 AM September 03, 2014

The shelter program for the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” has turned into another Tower of Babel, but it is not God’s doing this time. Many different groups, government and NGOs, local and foreign, argue over every aspect of the work: Where should the new houses be built; will they be permanent or temporary; are there jobs in the relocation area; is the presence of jobs an absolute necessity, and many other related questions.

In the Bible, the workers building the Tower left Babel when God confused the language and they couldn’t communicate with one another. The half-constructed tower was abandoned and the desert sands soon covered it. Will something similar be the fate of the homeless survivors of Yolanda?

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Is there some way the visit of Pope Francis can serve as a focal point for an overall review of shelter plans, so a housing plan can be laid out that can be supported by all the stakeholders? The survivors themselves should be involved, and the churches and civil society leaders and well-known urban planners, such as Felino “Jun” Palafox, and the schools of architecture of Mapua Institute of Technology, University of Santo Tomas and the University of the Philippines. Also, of course, Habitat for Humanity, the government and the NGOs, local and international. No more Babels. One was enough.

I hope the Pope receives this common shelter plan. It could be announced when he says Mass in Tacloban next January. Is it possible that in addition three meetings be scheduled for the Pope?

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The first meeting should be with the most influential Catholic businessmen and women in the country to exchange views on the national economy in the light of the Gospel and Church traditions, as the pope has done in his pastoral letter “The Joy of the Gospel.” Business people here have been remarkably quiet, even when the Pope in that document stated the type of economy the businesspeople oversee, which leads to jobless growth, and an increasing income gap between rich and poor, is to be condemned as seriously as murder is condemned (#53 of the document).

Businesspeople elsewhere have called the pastoral “warmed-over Marxism,” which is the same criticism they raised against the encyclical “Mater et Magistra” of Pope John XXIII. Let the Pope and the business community meet, not to argue but to cooperate. Pope Francis’ message is a continuation of the Church’s social teaching. It deserves a hearing by our businesspeople. He speaks more sharply and concretely than popes of the past, but it is the same basic message.

The second meeting should be with the bishops, religious superiors of men and women and others who have special authority in the Church. We haven’t heard criticism of the Pope from these people, but neither do we hear them talking in a positive, supportive way of what the Pope says and does. We do not see any new shifts in action along the lines suggested by Pope Francis. The Pope’s absorption in the problems of the poor is also traditional teaching. We will all be judged by how we serve the poor (Matthew 25:40).

Face to face discussion is often the way to put an end to chilly suspicion, especially when all members of the dialogue begin with a common concern for the poor of the Church and the peoples of the world. Are the prejudices and biases of our upbringings determining our stance toward the poor rather than the Gospel?

Lastly, I hope the Pope can have time with the poor. I hope he has a chance to walk through one of the seaside barangays of Tacloban where thousands of people died in Yolanda. I hope he has a chance to talk informally with the fishermen and their wives who still live in great measure in the gloom of what happened that night, when the strongest storm ever to hit the earth slammed into their homes. I hope a camera can follow him unobtrusively so we will see how he deals with the poor, so we can learn from him. Can he have a simple meal of rice and crabs, or fish if he can’t eat crabs? I think a formal meeting would also be useful. There is need sometimes to set promises down in a document.

I hope the Pope says a word for nature—the trees, the fish that are being dynamited and poisoned with cyanide, the corals and the bird sanctuaries and an end to reclaiming land for private use from bays and rivers.

I hope he will talk about the proper use of land, as Pope John Paul II did during his visit to Negros in 1981 when he spoke to half a million sugar workers. He pointed to the mountains around the meeting place and reminded everyone that God made the world for all, not just for the rich and powerful.

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Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates [urbanpoorassociates@ymail.com].

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TAGS: “The Joy of the Gospel”, Felino “Jun” Palafox, Pope, Pope John Paul II, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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