The Francis in our lives | Inquirer Opinion

The Francis in our lives

/ 01:12 AM January 19, 2015

Last year, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle shared the good news that Pope Francis would be including the Philippines in his Asian itinerary in January 2015, with a four-day visit to the country. I couldn’t help but think about how our brothers and sisters in Palo and Tacloban have fared since Supertyphoon “Yolanda” hit Leyte, wiping out so many families, devastating numerous homes and shelters, and destroying much of the people’s livelihood. News media predictably reported on negligent, uninspired public servants tasked to assist typhoon victims as well as on the haphazard relief and rehabilitation efforts marked by corruption and inefficiency. A visit by Pope Francis would certainly bring a ray of light and hope to all those affected by the tragedy.

And he did.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s arrival in the Philippines, the specter dubbed “Pope Francis in Manila: Mercy and Compassion,” was filled with all the pageantry and hype of a country predominantly identified as the largest Roman Catholic nation in Asia. We all love a man of the cloth, a man of learning, a man of humility; Bergoglio is no exception, choosing Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first non-European pope in more than a thousand years.


My Francis arrived in our lives on Oct. 30, 1961. Throughout his 53 years in our lives, I can say that he has led the life of a quiet, obedient, humble child, dedicating himself and his work to the life of others. I remember when he was a young, newly minted lawyer, at an age when most are hungry for self-aggrandizing cases, he started his law career in a free legal aid office. Once, a litigant gave a bunch of bananas meant as payment for My Francis’ pro bono legal assistance. This was typical of the clientele he then served—mostly low-income clients in detention or who lacked means to pay. On occasion, he made visits to those who were actually in jail.


Throughout his public life, both as an individual and as a religious leader, Pope Francis has been noted for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths. He is known for having a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by choosing to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors. In addition, due to both his Jesuit and Ignatian aesthetic, he is known for favoring simpler vestments void of ornamentation, including refusing the traditional papal mozzetta cape upon his election, choosing silver instead of gold for his piscatory ring, and keeping the same pectoral cross he had when he was cardinal (BBC, 2013). Even before becoming a Jesuit, Bergoglio worked as a bouncer in a bar and as a janitor.

My Francis suffered silently the embarrassment of failing the bar examinations (probably due to his illegible, chicken scratch-like penmanship) before passing it on a fourth try. When he did pass, there was little fanfare, but a lot of relief at the family dinner table. He has shunned the trappings of a lifestyle that others have aspired for and succeeded in attaining. My Francis never sought the help of his relatives to get by; he never ingratiated himself with influential folk to advance his career.

Bergoglio suffered life-threatening pneumonia and a section of his lungs was excised. He has been a lifelong supporter of the San Lorenzo de Almagro football club, films of Tita Merello, tango dancing, with an “intense fondness” for the traditional music of Argentina and Uruguay known as the milonga (La Nacion, March 2013).

My Francis is a model of healthy living and moderation. He eats lots of vegetables, moves a lot on foot, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink (except for the rare glass of wine or beer among family or work associates, who then egg him on to sing Kalapana’s “The Hurt” on videoke night). He keeps tabs on his favorite US NFL, NBA, and MLB teams, sometimes waking up early in the morning to watch championship games live on cable TV. He assists us in all our fumblings with gadgets like cell phones, Internet, and the like.

When Bergoglio became a Jesuit on March 12, 1960, he took the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience of a member of the order. When he was elected cardinal, he became known for personal humility and a commitment to social justice. He took public transportation and cooked his own meals. He was known to have a unique devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, and he enclosed a small picture of her in the letters he wrote, calling her “a great missionary saint” (, December 2013).

My Francis seems to have taken an unspoken vow of poverty and chastity. He has no life partner, shares the family ancestral home, and uses public transport for getting around. He has the opportunity to travel, and he could dine out several times a week. But he doesn’t. Instead, he takes a combination of LRT, train, jeepney, and the infrequent taxi ride, to and from work in Binondo. He switches off electricity, water and cable lines when not in use; he uses vintage model cell phones. I can’t remember the last time I have seen him in a business suit and tie; barong Tagalog and dark slacks are his usual work attire.


At home, My Francis wears cargo pants, flip-flops and a T-shirt. Early in the morning, he walks to Kamuning Public Market every other day to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. If our driver is absent, he takes his mom to morning Mass, at the risk of being late for work. If we have to go to the hospital, as has lately been the case, he is literally our go-to guy.

While we may say, Viva Il Santo Papa! to Pope Francis, I say, “Thank you very much, my son, Francisco, for all the altruism and selflessness you have shown; for all the quiet happiness, joy, and satisfaction you bring to your mother and me; and for simply being who you are.”

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TAGS: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Papal visit, Pope Francis, Saint Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’

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