Pope Francis did not spare words when he urged the country’s leaders, in a gathering in Malacañang, to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring and…scandalous social inequalities” and called on them “to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.”
His voice was calm, grandfatherly but his message was strong and powerful. The Pope struck at the core of the Philippines’ problems.
About 25 million of the population live on $1 a day or below. Filipinos driven by poverty to work overseas have reached 10 million. The gap between the rich and the poor remains vast with a slender middle class in between.
The Pope also comes at a time when the Catholic Church appears to be losing its relevance. Attendance in weekly mass has gone down from 64% in 1991 to 43% in 2013, as the Social Weather Stations survey shows. And 9% percent said they want to leave the Church.
Last year, the Catholic Church lost its battle against the Reproductive Health Law as the country struggled to find its place in the secular sun.
Still, the Pope’s five-day visit turned out to be a stunning and moving experience, with throngs of Filipinos giving him a rapturous welcome. His recognition of the financial pressure bearing on families, the suffering of victims of natural disasters, and his call for bishops, priests, seminarians as well as public officials “to live lives of honesty, integrity and concern for the common good” resonated with the crowds.
The visit was richly symbolic, particularly the windy and rain-soaked open-air mass in Tacloban, devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) 14 months ago. There he was, one in a sea of yellow raincoats. Finally, he reached his main mission in the Philippines and experienced first-hand the vulnerability of the place, a storm threatening to mar his encounter with the survivors.
But long after Pope Francis is gone from our shores, beyond his radiant, “unli” smile, and empathetic character, will he have left behind a Church that Catholics will find more meaningful? Will he have nudged the bishops and priests to be more relevant?
Indeed, he has inspired the bishops to declare 2015 as the Year of the Poor. Like Pope Francis, our bishops and priests should begin by shunning any form of excess, including groups of them officiating at ostentatious weddings.
The real test, however, will be a shift in mindsets, when leaders of the church and state rise above vested interests and work for the common good – so that the fruits of growth are shared by all. – Rappler.com