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A non-Catholic’s viewpoint

/ 12:07 AM January 22, 2015

It was a rainy day, but the sun was shining brightly in the hearts of millions of Filipinos. They had glimpsed their leader, or hadn’t but didn’t care. They were happy in the presence, in the aura, of perhaps the most admired man on the planet today: Pope Francis. The only one equal to him is a young woman, so I can confidently make that claim. He stands with the youngest Nobel Laureate ever: Malala Yousafzai, whose courage and humility have captured the world.

I am not a Catholic but I was moved, and he must have been, too. The outpouring of love for him would make a spouse jealous. They stood for hours in stormy weather with nary a complaint, not even a hint of one. Most amazing of all, everyone behaved; there was no uncontrollable mass surge of people. That is so un-Filipino. Compare that to—incomprehensible to me—the chaotic melee of the Black Nazarene procession, where a young man was trampled to death, and no one cared.

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For me, the most important message the Pope brought was not mercy and compassion, not truly caring for the poor (something successive administrations have miserably failed to do), but tolerance. Too many of today’s wars and terrorist actions are driven by its opposite: intolerance, or an inability to do your own thing and let others do theirs.

When you come right down to it, there’s no fundamental difference between the world’s two major religions. Both believe in the same god, and just give him a different name. Both learned of him through a prophet. Mohammad and Christ. It’s just that Christians believe their prophet was also the son of God.

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Pope Francis wants to reach out to those other religions, so we might live amicably together in an increasingly pressured world. A world where population growth and climate warming may soon make it inhabitable if control steps are not taken.

The Pope’s love of children was palpable; his spontaneous stops along the way showed that in the clearest terms. But I wish he’d recognize that the poor can’t support those children, and agree to helping mothers have fewer, by agreeing, not to impractical abstinence, but the use of contraception. When you come down to it, what is the difference between abstinence or withdrawal and contraception? Both deny the likelihood of a child, the reason for the Church opposition to artificial contraception.

It was somehow fortuitous that it rained, that his trip to Tacloban and Palo was shortened. It said clearer than any speech possibly could: Here’s a sampling of what we suffered—and we survived. This is what I find astonishing: that the deep faith of people can get them through even the worst nightmare, that they can lose their whole family and still believe in god.

The strength of religious commitment that Pope Francis instilled into the throngs through just his unassuming presence is something political leaders might reflect on. The people crave honest, devout leadership. But I’d like competency to be an important part of that, too.

I would like to congratulate the government, particularly Public Works Secretary Babes Singson, for a humongous event that went off without a hitch. It was a four-day visit where everything just worked. All contingencies were planned for; few were needed as so little went wrong. As a small aside, I’ve never heard the volume of sound that the largest array of speakers I’ve ever seen could produce, clearly. My congratulation to the sound engineers. I don’t need to congratulate the choir and orchestra. We just take for granted that music from Filipinos will be uplifting. It was. I hope, though, that the builders of the speaker tower that collapsed in Tacloban, killing 27-year-old Kristel Padasas, are properly prosecuted and required to provide generous compensation to the family.

I had one embarrassment, though. I lent a wet weather jacket to a general and it wasn’t waterproof, as it was supposed to be. He returned it soaked through. My apologies to him.

On tolerance, I would like to hope that the local clergy absorbed their leader’s message properly. They must be tolerant of those of other faiths, or of no faith at all. The Church’s role is to guide its flock, not dictate its terms. And certainly not try and extend those policies into the state. But I’ve not much hope that the message will get through. The thrill of the Pope’s visit will rapidly wane, and religious and political leaders will be back to their old shenanigans.

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I even saw a microcosm of it on the night Pope Francis was at Luneta. My wife and I dined in the Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel. It’s a truly fine dining room, and not cheap. So what was a table of about a dozen priests and nuns doing there? Didn’t they get their boss’ message of frugality and giving to the poor?

But here’s something I didn’t hear the Pope say, and it bothers me. He talked solicitously of the poor and how the Church loves them, but said nothing about how to get them out of poverty. Donations, feeding programs, cash handouts don’t help the poor. Why had he given no focus to the only thing that will help them, which is give them jobs? Why didn’t he appeal to business leaders, to the government hierarchy, to put in place measures to urgently create jobs? This I consider a serious omission.

But in the meantime, I suggest that we take up Ciel Habito’s excellent suggestion (“Compassion, poverty and the Pope,” Opinion, 1/20/15). Don’t write a check to some charitable foundation, adopt a family instead. Pay for their children’s tuition through grade school, high school and college, and into jobs. Directly help a family get out of poverty. I’m going to.

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TAGS: Babes Singson, Catholic, Mohammad, Pope Francis, Public Works Secretary, Roman Catholic
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