Families and children were at the centre of Francis’ attention on his first day in the Philippines. The day in Manila opened with the visit to the President and concluded with the meeting with families, confirming for the Filipino people that Bergoglio truly is “The People’s Pope”, as the headline of the The Philippine Star read.
Although perhaps lacking in originality, they certainly hit the mark. And the explanation is simple: the people feel the Pope is close to them because they hear his words that touch the heart, first and foremost the words mercy and compassion, selected as the motto of this visit in the country that is home to the majority of Catholics in Asia.
It is above all a pastoral visit, as the Pontiff said in the Presidential Palace at the beginning of his strong and urgent appeal for integral human development. It was demonstrated by the moving solidarity after the devastating Typhoon Yolanda. But it is important, Francis said, that politicians be distinguished by “honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and to reject all corruption in order to hear “the voice of the poor”. Concepts which he recalled in his homily at the Cathedral, when he urged Catholic Filipinos “to live lives of honesty” in order to serve and transform society.
The clearest example of what the Church is doing for the poorest in the metropolises of the Philippines came immediately afterwards, for the Pope wanted to add to his itinerary a brief and touching visit to the Tulay ng Kabataan foundation, which for nearly 20 years has gathered and protected children from the streets. The Pope shared that “I was truly moved when, after the Mass, I visited that home for children, alone, without families”. To the thousands of families who later gathered to hear him, he exclaimed: “This is what it means, in a prophetic sense, to build a family.”
To Francis, the family and its prophecy are at heart. And this was seen in the extraordinary meeting organized by the Filipino Bishops. Here too, the Pope wished to first greet the elderly and the sick, as he had done in the Cathedral, coming down from the altar to give them an embrace of peace. He then listened to the testimony of three families faced with poverty, with separation because of the need to find work in faraway countries, with illness. The Pontiff then recounted at length, improvising in Spanish, the Gospel narrative of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.
As a key to understanding, he spoke of Joseph, a man whose dreams led the Child Jesus and his mother to safety: “You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies”, Francis remarked. Then, off the cuff, he added to his speech a clear defence of the Encyclical Humanae vitae by Pope Montini, who “had the courage to defend openness to life in families”. He then warned of the risk of ideological colonizations, “he looked at the peoples of the earth and he saw this threat of families being destroyed for lack of children. Paul VI was courageous; he was a good pastor and he warned his flock of the wolves who were coming”.
St. Peter’s Square
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