There are a lot to be said during these times, when the highest leader of the Catholic Church is in my country. Yes, Pope Francis is here visiting the Philippines. He arrived on Thursday afternoon and since then, everyone is glued to the television following his activities which the local TV stations generously covered and televised.
I remember the same ecstatic feeling of the crowd way back in 1995 when the then Pope, now Saint John Paul II. I was one of the little kids who sang Tell the World of His Love with matching actions. Back then, I never really cared if I would see him in person or not. I was way too young to understand that about my faith. All I ever cared about was he’s Christ representative on earth, and as long as I prayed hard, my wishes will eventually come true. Who would have thought that after almost a couple of decades, the Philippines is once again visited by the pope. It feels like Jesus Christ really came here, to visit His people, especially those whose suffering has effectively defied imagination – the victims of the typhoon Yolanda and of the earthquake in Bohol in 2013.
As hard as it was to believe, my family was a very lucky bunch, to be sent to the Pope’s Encounter with the Families. Tickets were very hard to come by, as they were only being given to the most privileged of all, and so general admissions passes were, of course, a blessing worthy of gold (my deepest thanks to our parish priest, Fr. Rey Olan.) Not only I was able to glimpse the Pope in person, even from a distance, but I was able to stand under the same roof he’s under, and listen to his words from a not-so-really considerable amount of distance.
So how does it feel to be around the presence of this man? It was beyond overwhelming. My heart beat faster, and before I knew it, I was wiping my tears which I never understood where from. The overpowering grace of the Lord covering the whole place was so palpable I could almost taste it. I felt it in my bones. I realized that I was looking at the most tangible thing that I could hold on to as regards to my Catholic faith, like I have this whole big chance to deepen and strengthen my belief in God.
And so what is his message to the families? Especially the Filipino families? I was being told not too long ago not be so focused wholly about the Pope’s visit (which you can’t really help, by the way!) but to be much more excited about what message does God have through this visit. There are a lot of things that the Pope said about the plan of God for the families. I have quoted here some of the things he said in his allocution, and share with you my thoughts and what I understood from it.
“It is important to dream in the family. When you lose this capacity to dream you lose the capacity to love.” I always have this impression that some parents often dream about their kids’ future because they wanted to prove themselves and in to the society as best parents ever. I used to believe that my parents raised my brother and I the way we were, because they wanted to produce citizens who are God-fearing and decent, citizens that the society can rely on when the time is right. Little did I know that it is actually an act of love. Parents wanted us to be the best that we can be, and hope what’s best for us children, not only because it appears to be their biggest responsibility but because subconsciously, they have overwhelming love for us.
“Resting in the Lord.” As the gospel for that evening was about St. Joseph being called by the Lord, dreaming of an angel to take care of Jesus, Pope Francis encourages the families to make home for Jesus as well. And before we can even respond to this invitation from God, we all need to rest with him first. Take time to pray so that we would also be able to listen to what is the will of God for us and for our family. “It is in the family that we first learn how to pray. In the family we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish. We learn to move beyond our own needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them. That is why it is so important to pray as a family. That is why families are so important in God’s plan for the Church.”
“God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm. We must be attentive to the new ideological colonization.” Indeed, there are a lot of things that threaten the Filipino families these days. Pope Francis have enumerated various threats to our families, such as the suffering of those who lost their loved ones because of natural calamities, those who are forced to look for employment overseas because of lack of opportunity here in the country, and the pressure from those who tirelessly redefine the very institution of marriage. He connected these to the dangers which threatened Jesus and Mary in the gospel, making Joseph decide on how to protect best his family. “Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats. The Philippines needs holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families. Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself.”
Be reminded of our Christian duty to be prophetic voices in the midst of our communities. This is another invitation to us, Christian families, to remind of the society we’re living in that the Lord never forgets us all. As St. Joseph played his part in the Lord’s plan, became a blessing not only for the Holy Family, but a blessing for all of humanity. We are therefore facing a challenge to be a blessing as well, not only to our families, but to those who are outside our family. Pope Francis is inviting all of us to be compassionate to those who have no families, those whose families are being challenged by various factors that threaten their ties, and those who are abandoned. We are encouraged to care for them, be with them, make them feel that they are not alone, and remind them that God never cease to love us despite of all the tragedies that we have endured.
This is so far what I’ve understood in Pope Francis’ message. It is indeed God’s invitation for all of us to stand by our faith and play our part of becoming a blessing toward other people while He blesses us all. And I am very thankful of being privileged enough of being the first ones to hear this news.