Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"I Am Not A Politician, I Am A Pastor" – Seeking "Peace" and "Justice," Burlington Begins

On the eve of his installation tomorrow as the tenth head of Vermont's statewide diocese, Bishop Chris Coyne delivered the following homily tonight at Vespers – which doubled as his reception by the Green Mountain State's civil, ecumenical and interfaith leadership – in Burlington's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Featuring some unscripted additions, fullvid likewise below.



My friends, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am to be here this evening with you as I take possession of this cathedral. I welcome the governmental and civic leaders who are here and thank them for their gracious presence. Please know of my continuing prayers for you and all our civic leaders as you seek to govern in the state of Vermont. I’ve been told that Vermonters can be somewhat free-spirited and free-thinking. I’m not sure if that’s true... oh it is? Well good luck then.

I am especially glad to have joined in prayer with my brothers and sisters within the ecumenical and interfaith community. I am aware that this cathedral is only one of many places of worship within this city, places where prayer and worship are lifted up to God, places where charity is encouraged and enacted, places where the human person reaches for an encounter with the Divine. With the representatives of the Christian churches and communities I join this week in a time of prayer for unity among Christians, praying in the words of Jesus Himself “that all may be one.” While there are things that divide us, there are also many things that unite us, most especially our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. To my colleagues in the interfaith community, the shared belief we have in the Divine One and the common mission of care for the poor, sick, and needy in our midst unites us in charity and honors the One that we serve. I pledge myself to work with you on those things about which we agree and speak the Catholic Church’s faith to those matters about which we disagree.

I am not a politician. I am a pastor. I am not a policy-maker. I am a preacher and teacher of the Catholic Faith. My desire is to teach what the Church teaches, to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, and inform the consciences of my fellow Catholics about what we believe and why we believe. While I always seek to foster the common good of all, I recognize that I do so as one within a diverse and multi-faceted culture of which the Catholic Church is only one faith among many.

It seems to me that the reading that we just heard from the Letter of James is quite appropriate for this task. It was not a reading I chose but one that is prescribed for the Feast of Saint Thomas Aguinas, which we Catholics and a number of other Christian communities celebrate today. My hope is to be “wise” in the manner of which James writes: peaceable, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are the fruits of wisdom. I can’t make any guarantee about being docile though. It is just not in my nature.

I’m a student of history, having received my doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. The P.I.L, as it is called, is famous for its use of the historical-critical method for the study of liturgy. One necessarily had to become versed in Church history in order to understand the development and meaning of the Church’s liturgical practices. One thing I’ve learned is that in the encounter between human beings there is often not that much new under the sun. What I mean is when looking for wisdom on how to work together or get along or live in community or any number of interpersonal endeavors, the best place to look is often to the wisdom of the past. So in considering what I might offer for our consideration tonight, my thoughts turned to a writing that is close to our New England heritage. It is the sermon preached by the lay leader John Winthrop in 1630 as the Puritans were preparing to land in what is now Massachusetts. It is entitled “A Model of Christian Unity.” I know, I know. This text has often been used, on the one hand, by politicians to support the idea of “American exceptionalism” – that we are a “city on a hill” for all to follow in the great experiment that is America – and on the other hand that Winthrop’s intention in the new world was to establish a Puritan theocracy, but I think we can set those concerns aside and consider Winthrop’s preaching on unity in love or fraternal charity as a binding force for the establishment of mutual cooperation.

Winthrop preached that the bond of charity among Christians was a necessary part of their community, “as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body” and that it was “a divine, spiritual nature” - free, active, strong, courageous and permanent. Winthrop believed that having this "bond of love" for one and other would unite a group of people that would be blessed by God and impact the world (as they knew it) in a positive manner. “Despite the diversity of people, living in mutual charity could unite people of completely different socioeconomic backgrounds to work together and better the world”.

I would offer that we can move beyond Winthrop’s particularly Christian leitmotif into the broader context of interfaith, even non-religious relationships. It begins, I believe with the golden rule - to do unto others as I would have them do unto me - but then moves beyond a kind of mutual exchange of personal value – “you do for me, I do for you” – to one of charity, meaning seeking the “good’ for the other person, and seeking nothing in return. The hope is that the “other” will respond in kind, that my neighbor will seek what is good for me as I seek what is good for him or her.

Today’s gospel text from the Common Lectionary gives us the parable of the sower:

“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

I have always considered one interpretation of this text to be an allegory for the works of charity and service. Each of us is the sower who sows good deeds. Some of our deeds are appreciated. Some are simply received by some as their “due.” Some don’t want or welcome our help at all. But then there are those persons who accept our good act as it is and then become people who also become sowers. But the point is that the sower does not seek anything in return. He or she just sows because it is the right thing to do, because it brings light instead of darkness, because it serves the common good.

All of this engages us in the broader question of what is best for the common good. The golden rule urges me to feed the hungry person because that is what I would want it if I were hungry. An act routed in communal charity and aimed at the common good urges me to look even further, to the roots of and possible solutions to poverty. It is best summed up in the familiar adage, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” My hope and prayer is that we can all work within a unity of charity that probes the deeper questions of how to further both the individual and the common good while seeking only that that good be returned in kind.

Finally, allow me to end my reflections this evening by referring to the last line of the reading from James: “The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” It is often difficult for us to agree about how we are to pray together. Different canons, creeds, and confessions can complicate things very quickly. When we try and worship as one, we most often end up with a compromise that leaves no one happy. Yet, I think there is one thing about which we can agree, not so much as to how we are to pray but for what we are to pray: peace – for an end to violence and hatred and bigotry and prejudice and war. If we do nothing else in our common gathering than to pray for peace and pray that we may each be peacemakers in our own way within our own faiths and our own beliefs, then we are doing something of the good, of the divine, of God. I commit myself, once again, to strive to be a “peacemaker,” someone who prays for peace, advocates for peace, and seeks to live in peace with his brothers and sisters and I pray that my actions may bring forth a harvest of justice for all God’s creatures. May God bless us all in that endeavor.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"We Need To Be the Field Hospital, Not Judge Judy" – On March Eve, O'Malley's Call: "Pro-Life" Means Pro-Poor

Forty-two years since abortion was legalized in the US by the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the defense of the unborn remains the paramount public cause of the Stateside church.

Yet even as the annual March for Life in Washington to mark tomorrow's anniversary of the ruling has always provided the most significant platform on the issue both for the movement's base in the trenches and the horde of hierarchs on-hand to lead them, that's become all the more the case over these last two years in which the head of the USCCB's pro-life apparatus has suddenly emerged as the principal North American adviser to the Pope – and, by extension, the Vatican's most influential American power since John O'Connor bestrode the earth, if not longer still.

Over the 21 months since that confluence came to pass, its clout and profile have been flexed selectively and with keen discernment... but both this year and last, rarely has their full force shown itself more than on this night.

Against that backdrop, as he presided over the ever-teeming army of the faithful overflowing the nation's largest church – the capital's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – for the last time as the bench's Life chair, below is Cardinal Seán O'Malley's "State of the Movement" homily at tonight's national Vigil Mass (video thanks to our friends at Boston's CatholicTV):



The post always given to a cardinal to reflect its prominence, later this year the USCCB's lead policy portfolio – and with it, the celebrating duties for the succeeding editions of this Mass – will fall to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York for the next three-year term.

In the Stateside church, the Roe anniversary is observed as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children."
 

Below, the fulltext of O'Malley's homily as prepared for delivery.

* * *

In Boston, there is a popular diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of the items on the menu is called “The Emergency Room” consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, french toast, hash browns. The clientele are people from the hood, a few Archie and Edith Bunkers, Ralph and Alice Kramdens, cops and priests. It’s the kind of place you could invite Pope Francis to. Juke box music from the 50’s and 60’s adds to the atmosphere.

While having dinner there last week with Fr. O’Leary and Fr. Kickham, the phone rang. I presumed it was a telemarketer. It was Oprah Winfrey.

I almost had to order “the emergency room”. She called to tell me she was reading my blog and wanted to thank me for the comments I had published on the blog.

You have to feed the blog. I had shared some reflections about the film Selma. To me, one of the very moving aspects of the film is to see how people of faith came together to witness to the dignity of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. They were Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, standing together courageously. One of the ministers from Boston, a 38 year old white man, Reverend James Reel, was beaten to death leaving behind a wife and four small children. He had served for four years here in Washington D.C. at All Souls Church on 16th Street, just across from my offices at the Spanish Catholic Center. At the time of his death he was working for the Quakers in Boston as director of a housing program focusing on desegregation. Martin Luther King called him the defense attorney of the innocent in the court of public opinion. Today that is our job.

The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to try to repair the world --to use the Jewish expression. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “No one should demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanction of personal life without influence on societal and national life… The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

We are called upon to build a better world. “The Church’s social thought”, says Pope Francis, “offers proposals, works for change and constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.”

In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice. Now we come together to be the defense attorney for the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all those whose right to life is threatened. We shall overcome.

As a matter of fact, we are overcoming, but it is a well kept secret.

We have all heard of Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology. I want to talk about some American Mythology.

There are many myths that are circulating and cause a lot of harm, especially since our politicians often espouse them. First of all, you will hear that abortion is a woman’s issue; secondly, that most Americans are pro-choice, pro abortion; and thirdly, that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-choice position.

Earlier this month in an op-ed on the editorial page of the New York Times entitled "The Abortion Stereotype," Razib Kahn observes that in polling done over the last 20 years, women have been consistently more pro-life than men.

Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58% of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced.

Studies have shown that women are more pro-life than men. Certainly the maternal instincts and closeness to the source of life, dispose women to be more protective of children. So, despite the talk about “the woman’s body” and the “woman’s choice”, oftentimes the big supporter of abortion is the man who is quite happy to invest all reproductive responsibility in the woman. This creates a situation in which men can easily rationalize their irresponsibility towards women who opt not to have an abortion.

According to the Allan Gutmacher Institute, 80% of all abortions are sought by single women. With abortion as an option, a man can compel a woman to have an abortion by denying his responsibility or threatening to abandon her if she “chooses” to give birth. For the unwilling father, an abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child support payments.

Even a majority of so-called pro-choice Americans actually favor informed consent for mothers, abortion bans in the third trimester, bans on partial-birth abortions, required parental consent for minors, 24 hour waiting periods and even abortion bans in the second trimester. These are polls by Gallup, CBS and the New York Times, not by EWTN, Catholic University and the Vatican.

Another myth proclaims young people are more pro-choice, to use the terminology. Once again the polls are unanimous in showing that young Americans are the most pro-life segment of the American people.

Upon her resignation in 2012, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keegan stated that there is a large “intensity gap” among young people on the subject of abortion. We have already seen that the majority of young people are pro-life. An internal poll by NARAL shows that 51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people see abortion as an important electoral issue.

Gallup in 2010 declared that “pro-life is the new normal”. Congratulations, you are normal.

But you know there are some people who are using these American myths: that the majority of women, the majority of Americans, the majority of young people are pro-choice. It is a lie that is being foisted on the American people to try to convince people to embrace abortion with the flag and apple pie. We need to make sure that our political leaders are brought up to date and begin to take the pro-life ideals of Americans seriously.

It is good to recall that even if all the myths were true that the American people, women and youth were overwhelmingly in favor of abortion, that would not alter the sacredness of human life and our absolute obligation to protect and defend this most precious gift that is life.
In the first reading from the book of Exodus we heard about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who resisted the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the babies. They were convinced of the sacredness of each and every life and were willing to submit themselves to the wrath of the Pharaoh rather than abort one innocent child.

Recently, addressing a group of Catholic doctors in Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Francis stated: “If the Hippocratic Oath commits you to always be servants of life, the Gospel pushes you further: to love life no matter what, especially when it is in need of special care and attention. The Holy Father warns the health care workers that “The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a ‘false compassion,’ that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; and act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome.

The compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan who “Sees, has compassion, approaches and provides concrete help.”

The Holy Father tells the doctors: “Your mission puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. Fidelity to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes requires choices that are courageous and go against the current, which may become points of conscientious objection.”

The Holy Father is reminding our Catholic Healthcare workers that they must be like the valiant midwives who refused to kill the Hebrew babies at the behest of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest challenges to people of faith in our culture is the erosion of conscience rights, the space we need as a Catholic community to carry on our ministries and works of mercy without violating God’s law and our conscience.

In a certain way the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel reminds us of many young people today, who are asking serious questions about the meaning of our existence, why we are here and what we should do with our lives? What is true success? What is happiness?

Not only does the Rich Young Man ask the right questions, but he is asking the right person, Jesus Christ: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When I ask confirmation candidates or classrooms I visit: How did Jesus answer the Rich Young Man? Invariably, I am told: Jesus said: “Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me.” That is correct, but it is not the first thing Jesus says. Jesus says if you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the first commandment Jesus mentions is: “Thou shall not kill.”

This story of the Rich Young Man appears in all the synoptic Gospels. And Jesus’ answer always begins with: “Thou shall not kill.”

We are all here today because we are convinced that human happiness and inheriting eternal life require us to embrace this commandment: “Thou shall not kill or to express it positively, “Thou shall protect human life.”

The second command Jesus mentions: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” To express this positively, “practice chastity in your life.”
We know that unwanted pregnancies often end in abortion. Many unwanted pregnancies are the result of a culture that is always encouraging promiscuity.

People who favor legal abortion claim they want to reduce the number of abortions. One of the logical ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to discourage the promiscuous behavior that is rampant in our culture. There are many instances of positive social changes that have been brought about by public consensus reinforced in advertising, educational efforts and use of mass media.

The campaigns against smoking and the public backlash against the promotion of tobacco in movies and on TV has done much to curb smoking and has contributed much to a healthier America.

The glamorization of promiscuity needs to be reversed by having people speak out against it the way people object to demeaning media portrayals of women and African-Americans. Like these, it is not a matter of passing laws but of changing what we deem as acceptable in society.

So Jesus’ first two instructions for happiness are: “Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery.” Protect innocent human life, embrace the discipline of chastity which protects the transmission of life.

Jesus goes on to tell the Young Man to honor his mother and father. An important part of discipleship is respecting the family, nurturing relations, preserving the Family as the sanctuary of Life.

The Rich Young Man proudly proclaims that he had observed the commandments from his youth. That is really impressive. Not every Catholic can say that. Unfortunately, the Rich Young Man was so busy congratulating himself that he was totally unprepared for what followed. Jesus says thanks for keeping the commandments, but that is not enough. Jesus tells him: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell everything that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.”

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill – I’m pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery – I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.

The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!

Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says that just as the commandment “Thou shall not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shall not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.

The Holy Father warns us both at Lampedusa and in Evangelii Gaudium about the globalization of indifference. He says, “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor as though they were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

The Pro Life movement in the Catholic Church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many.

Indifference is our greatest enemy. We see the antidote in today’s Gospel. The Lord looks at the confused young man, and St. Marks writes: “And he loved him.” The confused young man went away sad because he did not realize how much the Lord loved him. Had he even suspected I am sure he would have given the money away gladly, but in his insecurity and fear, he leaves. He goes away sad.

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples’ attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

To change people’s hearts we must love them and they must realize that we care about them. They need the witness of our love and our joy. To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy, of good news.

The rich young man went away sad. He needed to meet someone like St. Francis, another rich young man who was filled with joy after kissing the leper and giving all his money and clothes to the poor.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain”, the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”

To me, Mother Teresa is the model of the pro-life movement because she witnessed to the preciousness of life by her care for the poor. Her first ministry was collecting the dying people on the streets of Calcutta to take them to an old abandoned Hindu temple so that she and her sisters could take care of them so that they could die with dignity, surrounded by love. She called this “doing something beautiful for God.”

What must characterize the pro-life movement is a special love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and especially human life that is in danger of being discarded.

When Helen Alvaré worked our Pro-life office she always told the Bishops: “Be positive. We are not against anything, we are for something. We are for life.”

At times we might be tempted to curse those who advocate for abortions and promote and defend this barbaric practice. But Paul tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

One of the wisest pieces of advice in Evangelii Gaudium is found in Paragraph 168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal (of the Gospel Way of Life). In light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judgments bent on routing out every threat and deviation, we should appear joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

We shall overcome the indifference only by love. A love that will allow us to see in every unborn child a precious gift, a fellow human being.
We must direct our love and attention to wherever life is most threatened and show by our attitudes, words and actions that life is precious, and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

The rich young man left in discouragement because what Christ asked of him was difficult. The challenges we face are great and discouragement is our greatest enemy.

But know that Jesus is looking on us with love, His love should energize and unite us. No sacrifice is too great, we must not count the cost, but press on with the full assurance that We shall overcome.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Who Will Carry The Light If We Do Not?"

For all the ups, downs, long days and wild curves that come with life on this beat, moments like this aren't just amazing to cover and behold: they're the summit of what all this is all about.

As no less than Francis himself observed this morning, though, in this age of media over-saturation, "we have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with [it].... So we run the risk of becoming museums."

"This is the challenge that life offers you," he said, "to learn how to love. Not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it, but through that love, [to] let that information bear fruit."

Given the scope of this shop, to each and every one of us, let these words serve as a reminder, a challenge and – if we're really going to be Ignatian about it – an examination of conscience.

On a related angle, it is exceedingly rare for a papal liturgy – especially one on the road – to see a uniquely scripted ritual not rooted in any recognitio-ed book. Then again, it should come as no secret to anyone here that the outward-reaching, joy-filled, life-giving, "missionary discipleship"-driven Asian church is the embodiment of Francis' Evangelii Gaudium "dream" in its living the ecclesiology of the peripheries to which Peter's 265th successor has called the entire Body of Christ.

Ergo, in the Catholic ground zero of the continent 60 percent of humanity calls home, it was perfectly fitting – and no accident whatsoever – that the largest crowd a Pope has ever seen was sent forth and commissioned by him with a specially-written rite of light...

...and so, from the Luneta, from Tacloban, from all the Philippines, may Its glow and Its call spread to reach the very ends of this earth:



For those who missed the lyrics the first time, have at 'em:

For God so loved the world
He gave us His only Son
Jesus Christ our Savior
His most precious one
He has sent us His message of love
And sends those who hear
To bring the message to everyone
In a voice loud and clear

Let us tell the world of His love
The greatest love the world has known
Search the world for those who have walked
Astray and lead them home
Fill the world's darkest corners
With His light from up above
Walk every step, Every mile, Every road
And tell the world! Tell the world of His love!
Sure, the words might sound like the theme-song of Francis' pontificate. That they were instead written for the now-surpassed Pope-Record event two decades ago in the same place yet again shows how, in reality, there's actually little new to this moment... well, except for those who've just opened themselves to see it.

* * *
Indeed, folks, these days have been a priceless experience – even more than usual, such a joy and gift to share it all around.
 

Even for the grace it is, the reminder's in order that doing this work means having equally great bills to pay for it – and lest anybody forgot, the only means we've got to keep at it is your generosity and support....


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"Witness the Joy of The Gospel in Asia and The Whole World!" – In Luneta, The "Francis Wave" Reaches Record Crest

Twenty years and three days since 5 million Filipinos converged on Manila's Luneta Park for the largest event in papal history, the islands' exuberant, ever-youthful church did it again this Sunday evening – and this time around, even whipping winds and downpours from the outer bands of a tropical storm couldn't stop them.

Calling it "the most fabulous number [of people] we have seen," at the press conference following this afternoon's Mass, the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said local authorities had provided the day's attendance figure as 6 to 7 million. As the president of the nation's bishops, Archbishop Soc Villegas, said at the liturgy's close, Francis' "love" – and, with it, the faith of the 85 million-member Pinoy Church – had shown itself to be "typhoon-proof."

Beyond taking the all-time record from the final day of John Paul II's 1995 visit in the same place, it is significant that today's mass of humanity did not come in the context of a World Youth Day, which had been the case for both the prior title-holder and Francis' draw of 3 million at the closing of 2013's WYD on Rio de Janiero's Copacabana beach.

What's more, while John Paul's last trip to Asia was commonly understood as a "farewell" to a Pope who was entering the pantheon of legend in his 17th year on the Chair, Francis has now presided two of the three bigggest papal crowds ever within the first two years of his Petrine ministry. (On a domestic note, it bears recalling that the twin largest WYD turnouts had something else in common: the two smallest delegations from the United States for the church's triennial "Olympic event.")

In the end, the weather – which saw Metro Manila placed under a low-level typhoon warning (and the Pope again don the same yellow poncho as the crowd) – only ratcheted up the intensity of the singing, cheering "oceanic" throng, which took to doing what was re-christened the "Francis Wave" during lulls in the long afternoon, most having been on-site or walking toward it from well before sunrise. Adding to the ecstatic yet reverent chaos, meanwhile, this Sunday was likewise the feast of the Santo Niño, the devotion to the Baby Jesus which is the most prevalent popular piety in global Catholicism's famously devout third-largest outpost, by far the premier bastion of the faith on the world's largest continent.

As the faithful were encouraged to bring their statues of the Christ-child by the visit's organizers, at points it looked as if at least a million of the little Niños alone dotted the scene... or, put another way, there seemed to be almost as many statues being held up as the ubiquitous cellphones and tablets frantically trying to capture the Pope as he passed.

Before the Mass, the Pope met for some 20 minutes with the father of Kristel Padasas, the 27 year-old Catholic Relief Services worker who was killed by a fallen piece of scaffolding after yesterday's emotional Mass in Tacloban amid the storm conditions there.

Having closed with a unique commissioning rite to send forth the Pinoy Church as a light to the world, below is the Vatican feed of the entire liturgy, including the Pope's ride-arounds through the crowd before and afterward:



...and using the figure of the Santo Niño as his springboard, Francis' homily as delivered:

“A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Is 9:5). It is a special joy for me to celebrate Santo Niño Sunday with you. The image of the Holy Child Jesus accompanied the spread of the Gospel in this country from the beginning. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, he continues to remind us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. He tells us this in today’s Gospel: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:15). The Santo Niño continues to proclaim to us that the light of God’s grace has shone upon a world dwelling in darkness, bringing the Good News of our freedom from slavery, and guiding us in the paths of peace, right and justice. The Santo Niño also reminds us of our call to spread the reign of Christ throughout the world.

In these days, throughout my visit, I have listened to you sing the song: “We are all God’s children”. That is what the Santo Niño tells us. He reminds us of our deepest identity. All of us are God’s children, members of God’s family. Today Saint Paul has told us that in Christ we have become God’s adopted children, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is who we are. This is our identity. We saw a beautiful expression of this when Filipinos rallied around our brothers and sisters affected by the typhoon.

The Apostle tells us that because God chose us, we have been richly blessed! God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3). These words have a special resonance in the Philippines, for it is the foremost Catholic country in Asia; this is itself a special gift of God, a special blessing. But it is also a vocation. Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.

God chose and blessed us for a purpose: to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4). He chose us, each of us to be witnesses of his truth and his justice in this world. He created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it. But through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty; through sin, man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.

Sometimes, when we see the troubles, difficulties and wrongs all around us, we are tempted to give up. It seems that the promises of the Gospel do not apply; they are unreal. But the Bible tells us that the great threat to God’s plan for us is, and always has been, the lie. The devil is the father of lies. Often he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being “modern”, “like everyone else”. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink; we turn in on ourselves. We forget to remain focused on the things that really matter. We forget to remain, at heart, children of God. That is sin: [to] forget at heart that we are children of God. For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. That is why the message of the Santo Niño is so important. He speaks powerfully to all of us. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be as God’s family.

The Santo Niño also reminds us that this identity must be protected. The Christ Child is the protector of this great country. When he came into the world, his very life was threatened by a corrupt king. Jesus himself needed to be protected. He had an earthly protector: Saint Joseph. He had an earthly family, the Holy Family of Nazareth. So he reminds us of the importance of protecting our families, and those larger families which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family. Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.

In the Gospel, Jesus welcomes children, he embraces them and blesses them (Mk 10:16). We too need to protect, guide and encourage our young people, helping them to build a society worthy of their great spiritual and cultural heritage. Specifically, we need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.

It was a frail child, in need of protection, who brought God’s goodness, mercy and justice into the world. He resisted the dishonesty and corruption which are the legacy of sin, and he triumphed over them by the power of his cross. Now, at the end of my visit to the Philippines, I commend you to him, to Jesus who came among us as a child. May he enable all the beloved people of this country to work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace. May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Philippines and may he sustain the Christians of this great nation in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world.

Please don’t forget to pray for me! God bless you!
The most ambitious papal trek since 2002 in terms of its scheduling – and all but assured of being the most significant of 2015's planned PopeTrips in its levels of participation, intensity and fervor – Francis' weeklong journey in Southeast Asia ends Monday morning local time as his return flight for Rome departs at 9.45 (8.45pm ET Sunday).

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Have I Learned How To Weep?" – In Manila, A Day For the Ages

Eighteen months since the first Latin American to occupy Peter's Chair drew 3 million to Rio's Copacabana Beach, this Sunday in Manila is almost certain to witness the largest crowds of this pontificate in the very same place where, 20 years ago this week, John Paul II presided over one of the most mammoth gatherings in human history.

Francis' day beginning having begun with a 9.30 am local (8.30pm ET Saturday) outdoor meeting with young people on the campus of the capital's University of Santo Tomas, below is a livestream an on-demand feed from the Filipino magazine Rappler....



Having (again) taken his prepared text and reworked it heavily on the fly with unscripted remarks, below is the Pope's address as delivered – the context is Francis' response to the four young people who, keeping with his custom for meetings with the young, delivered testimonies of their lives and experiences earlier in the encounter:

Dear Young Friends,

When I speak spontaneously I do it in Spanish, because I don’t know the English language. May I do it? Thank you very much. This is Fr Mark [Ed.: Msgr Mark Miles, the Gibraltar-born head of the Secretariat of State's "English Desk"], a good translator.

First of all, a sad piece of news. Yesterday, as Mass was about to start, a piece of scaffolding fell and, upon falling, hit a young woman who was working in the area and she died. Her name is Kristel. She worked for the organisation preparing for that Mass. She was 27 years old, young like yourselves. She worked for Catholic Relief Services as a volunteer. I would like all of you who are young like her to pray for a moment in silence with me and then we will pray to Our Mother in Heaven. Let us pray.

(Prays) Hail Mary…

Let us also pray for her parents. She was an only child. Her mother is coming from Hong Kong and her father is here in Manila.

(Prays) Our Father…

It is a joy for me to be with you this morning. I greet each of you from the heart, and I thank all those who made this meeting possible. During my visit to the Philippines, I wanted in a particular way to meet with young people, to listen to you and to talk with you. I want to express the love and the hopes of the Church for you. And I want to encourage you, as Christian citizens of this country, to offer yourselves passionately and honestly to the great work of renewing your society and helping to build a better world.

In a special way, I thank the young people who have offered words of welcome to me.

To Jun and Leandro Santos II and to Rikki, thank you very much. There’s only a very small representation of girls among you. Too little. Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too “machistas” and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears. So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.

I thank you Jun for talking about your experience so bravely. As I said, the heart of your question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about the things you said can we come close to answering that question. Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion which is useless. You expressed something like this. It’s a compassion that makes us put our hands in our pockets and give something to the poor. But if Christ had had that kind of compassion he would have greeted a couple of people, given them something, and walked on. But it was only when he was able to cry that he understood something of our lives.

Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.

This is the first thing I want to say: let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep.

In the Gospel, Jesus cried for his dead friend, he cried in his heart for the family who lost its child, for the poor widow who had to bury her son. He was moved to tears and compassion whe n he saw the crowds without a pastor. If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian. This is a challenge. When they posed this question to us, why children suffer, why this or that tragedy occurs in life – our response must be either silence or a word that is born of our tears. Be courageous, don’t be afraid to cry.

Then came Leandro Santos II and his question. He also posed a good question: the world of information. Today, with so many means of communication we are overloaded with information. Is that bad? No. It is good and can help. But there is a real danger of living in a way that we accumulate information. We have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with that information. So we run the risk of becoming museums of young people who have everything but not knowing what to do with it. We don’t need young museums but we do need holy young people. You may ask me: Father, how do we become saints? This is another challenge. It is the challenge of love. What is the most important subject you have to lean at university? What is most important subject you have to learn in life? To learn how to love. This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn bow to love. Not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it.. But through that love let that information bear fruit.

For this the Gospel offers us a serene way forward: using the three languages of the mind, heart and hands – and to use them in harmony. What you think, you must feel and put into effect. Your information comes down to your heart and you put it into practice. Harmoniously. What you think, you feel and you do. Feel what you think and feel what you do. Do what you think and what you feel. The three languages...

Can you repeat this? To think. To feel. To do. And all in harmony...

Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved. It’s harder to let yourself be loved than to love. That is why it is so difficult to come to the perfect love of God. We can love Him but we must let ourselves be loved by Him. Real love is being open to the love that comes to you. The love that surprises us. If you only have information you are not surprised. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved. God is a God of surprise because He loved us first. God awaits us to surprise us. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God. Let us not have a computer psychology that makes us think we know it all. All answers on computers - but no surprises. The challenge of love. God reveals himself through surprises.

Think of St Matthew. He was a good banker. But he let people down because he imposed taxes against his own people to give to the Romans. He was full of money. Jesus passed by, looked at him and said: “Follow me”. He couldn’t believe it. It you have the opportunity, see Caravaggio’s picture of him. Jesus calls him and those around say: “Him? He betrayed us! He is no good! He hoards money!” But the surprise of being loved overcomes him. The day when Matthew left home for work, saying goodbye to his wife, he couldn’t imagine he would come home without money and have to prepare a feast for the one who loved him first. God surprised Matthew more than the money he had. Allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward in the right direction.

Real love allows you to spend yourselves, to leave your pockets empty. Think of St Francis who died with empty hands and empty pockets but with a full heart. Remember: no young museums, and wise young people. To be wise use three languages: think well, feel well and do well. And to be wise allow yourselves to be surprised by the love of God. That will guarantee a good life.

Rikki came up with a good plan for what we can do in life with all young people’s activities.

Thank you, Rikki, for what you and your friends do. I’d like to ask you a question: you and your friends help others but do you allow yourselves to receive? Answer in your heart.

In the Gospel we just heard, there was a beautiful phrase, for me the most important of all: Jesus looked at the young man and he loved him. When you see Rikki and his friends you love them because they do good things. Jesus says something very important: you lack one thing. Let us listen to this word in silence: you lack only one thing. (Repeats)

What is it that I lack? To all of you who Jesus loves so much, I ask you: do you allow others to give you from their riches to you who have not? The Sadducees, Doctors of the Law, in the time of Jesus, gave much to the people, they taught the people the law, but they never allowed the people to give them something. Jesus had to come to allow himself to feel compassion and to be loved.

How many young people among you are like this? You know how to give and yet you have ever learned how to receive. You still lack one thing. Become a beggar. This is what you still lack. Learn how to beg. This isn’t easy to understand. To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive with humility. To learn to be evangelized by the poor, by those we help, the sick, orphans, they have so much to give us. Have I learned how to beg? Or am I self-sufficient? Do I think I need nothing? Do you know you too are poor? Do you know your own poverty and your need to receive? Do you let yourselves be evangelised by those you serve? This is what helps you mature in your commitment to give to others. Learn how to open your hand from your very own poverty.

There are some points I have prepared. The first, I already told you: to learn how to love and to learn how to be loved. There is a challenge which is a challenge of u. This is not only because your country more than many others is likely to be seriously affected by climate change. There is the challenge, the concern for the environment. And finally, there is the challenge for the poor, to love the poor, with your bishops. Do you think of the poor? Do you feel with the poor? Do you do something for the poor? Do you ask the poor to give you the wisdom they have?

This is what I wish to tell you all today. Sorry if I haven’t read what I prepared for you but there is a phrase that consoles me: that reality is superior to ideas. The reality that you have is superior to the paper I have in front of me. Thank you very much. Pray for me!
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Friday, January 16, 2015

"I Don't Know What To Say To You" – Pope and People, Together In The Storm

Quite possibly the most powerful moment of his 22 months as Bishop of Rome, scrapping his prepared preach before a crowd estimated at 500,000 – and wearing the same poncho given the throng over his vestments due to tropical-force wind and rain – here's the Pope's emotional ad-libbed homily to the community hardest hit by the most devastating recorded storm ever to hit land...

                                                                                 
*   *   *
(Tacloban 9am) At least by the Pope's schedule, magandang umaga – good morning.

To accomplish the purpose for which he most wanted to visit the Philippines, Lolo Kiko left Manila for Tacloban – ground zero of 2013's catastrophic Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – almost an hour ahead of schedule, ostensibly in light of the tropical storm rains which have already begun to soak the islands' southern tier. Already, an announcement was made that Communion will not be distributed at this morning's Mass at the town's airport to spare the crowd's time spent outdoors.

Here below, the Vatican live-feed....


With a focus on "human ecology" and climate change likely to figure in today's message, texts to drop on delivery. Til then, the liturgical texts are available via the e-book Missal for this weekend's trip.

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"Protect Your Families!" – Francis On The Domestic "Dream"... And Its "Ideological Colonization"

At this evening's encounter with families in a 20,000-seat Manila arena (fullvid), the Pope went off-script at length to issue a bluntly pointed condemnation of an "ideological colonization" of domestic life by forces that would "threaten" it, including among its examples attempts "to redefine the very institution of marriage" and "a lack of openness to life."

Given the prospect of characteristically clueless reactions among louder corners in the West, it bears noting that the comments – in which Francis again hailed Blessed Paul VI for his "strength" in "defending openness to life" in Humanae vitae – come in the particular context of recent events in the islands. In late 2013, the Filipino Congress and President Benigno Aquino defied the nation's formidable church leadership in enacting the long-controversial RH (reproductive health) Law, which legalized contraception for the first time in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. When most of the legislation was subsequently upheld last April by the Supreme Court, the bishops took a stance of muted protest, saying that even as "the church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws," the faithful were called to "move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to (being) truly Spirit-empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love." (The Pope is shown above at tonight's event with the prelate known as "The Golden Child," Manila's Cardinal Chito Tagle.)

In addition, while Francis told Jesuit Fr Antonio Spadaro in their famous 2013 interview that the church "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," in the next breath the Pope likewise emphasized that "when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context" – a context rooted in "the proposal of the Gospel" from which "the moral consequences then flow." Accordingly, Lolo Kiko's decision to raise the concerns in Manila signals his confidence that the Filipino church has the necessary maturity and depth of missionary discipleship to tackle the challenges to family life as a palpable manifestation of its Christian witness as opposed to acting like a power player in a political dog-fight.

To repeat, as the strongest of the remarks were not in the draft prepared for delivery – and, just as crucially, where and how Francis veers off the page bears watching – below is fullvid of the half-hour talk:


The first day now concluded, after a brief morning flight, Francis arrives in Tacloban – ground zero of 2013's Typhoon Yolanda – at 9.30am local Saturday (8.30pm ET Friday) for a daylong visit including an outdoor Mass, lunch with survivors of the storm, and a meeting with local clergy and religious. For the liturgies still to come, the Filipino church has published an e-book with all the Mass-texts.

SVILUPPO 1 – 8.30pm Manila: Minutes after the Pope's departure from the families' event, the following tweet from Francis was beamed out....

SVILUPPO 2 – 9pm Manila: Here below, with Francis' off-the-cuff remarks worked in, the Vatican transcript of the Pope's address as delivered:
Dear Families,
Dear Friends in Christ,

I am grateful for your presence here this evening and for the witness of your love for Jesus and his Church. I thank Bishop Reyes, Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission on Family and Life, for his words of welcome on your behalf. And, in a special way, I thank those who have presented testimonies and have shared their life of faith with us.

The Scriptures seldom speak of Saint Joseph, but when they do, we often find him resting, as an angel reveals God’s will to him in his dreams. In the Gospel passage we have just heard, we find Joseph resting not once, but twice. This evening I would like to rest in the Lord with all of you, and to reflect with you on the gift of the family.

It is important to dream in the family. All mothers and fathers dream of their sons and daughters in the womb for 9 months. They dream of how they will be. It isn’t possible to have a family without such dreams. When you lose this capacity to dream you lose the capacity to love, the capacity to love is lost. I recommend that at night when you examine your consciences, ask yourself if you dreamed of the future of your sons and daughters. Did you dream of your husband or wife? Did you dream today of your parents, your grandparents who carried forward the family to me? It is so important to dream and especially to dream in the family. Please don’t lose the ability to dream in this way. How many solutions are found to family problems if we take time to reflect, if we think of a husband or wife, and we dream about the good qualities they have. Don’t ever lose the memory of when you were boyfriend or girlfriend. That is very important.

Joseph’s rest revealed God’s will to him. In this moment of rest in the Lord, as we pause from our many daily obligations and activities, God is also speaking to us. He speaks to us in the reading we have just heard, in our prayer and witness, and in the quiet of our hearts. Let us reflect on what the Lord is saying to us, especially in this evening’s Gospel. There are three aspects of this passage which I would ask you to consider: resting in the Lord, rising with Jesus and Mary, and being a prophetic voice.

Resting in the Lord. Rest is so necessary for the health of our minds and bodies, and often so difficult to achieve due to the many demands placed on us. But rest is also essential for our spiritual health, so that we can hear God’s voice and understand what he asks of us. Joseph was chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. As Christians, you too are called, like Joseph, to make a home for Jesus. You make a home for him in your hearts, your families, your parishes and your communities.

To hear and accept God’s call, to make a home for Jesus, you must be able to rest in the Lord. You must make time each day for prayer. But you may say to me: Holy Father, I want to pray, but there is so much work to do! I must care for my children; I have chores in the home; I am too tired even to sleep well. This may be true, but if we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all: God’s will for us. And for all our activity, our busy-ness, without prayer we will accomplish very little.

Resting in prayer is especially important for families. It is in the family that we first learn how to pray. And don’t forget when the family prays together, it remains together. This is important. There we come to know God, to grow into men and women of faith, to see ourselves as members of God’s greater family, the Church. 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!

I would like to tell you something very personal. I like St Joseph very much. He is a strong man of silence. On my desk I have a statue of St Joseph sleeping. While sleeping he looks after the Church. Yes, he can do it! We know that. When I have a problem or a difficulty, I write on a piece of paper and I put it under his statue so he can dream about it. This means please pray to St Joseph for this problem.

Next, rising with Jesus and Mary. Those precious moments of repose, of resting with the Lord in prayer, are moments we might wish to prolong. But like Saint Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act (cf. Rom 13:11). Faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it. Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world.
Just as the gift of the Holy Family was entrusted to Saint Joseph, so the gift of the family and its place in God’s plan is entrusted to us so we can carry it forward. To each one of you and us because I too am the son of a family.

The angel of the Lord revealed to Joseph the dangers which threatened Jesus and Mary, forcing them to flee to Egypt and then to settle in Nazareth. So too, in our time, 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.

Beware of the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family. It’s not born of the dream that we have from God and prayer – it comes from outside and that’s why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past “No” to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say “No” to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family. And to ask the intercession of St Joseph to know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”....

The pressures on family life today are many. Here in the Philippines, countless families are still suffering from the effects of natural disasters. The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households. While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality. The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.

I think of Blessed Paul VI in the moment of that challenge of population growth, he had the strength to defend openness to life. He knew the difficulties families experience and that’s why in his encyclical (Humanae Vitae) he expressed compassion for specific cases and he taught professors to be particularly compassionate for particular cases. And he went further, he looked at the people on the earth and he saw that lack (of children) and the problem it could cause families in the future. Paul VI was courageous, a good pastor and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching. And from the heavens he blesses us today.

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. The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 85). So protect your families! See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments. Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation! So rise with Jesus and Mary, and set out on the path the Lord traces for each of you.

Finally, the Gospel we have heard reminds us of our Christian duty to be prophetic voices in the midst of our communities. Joseph listened to the angel of the Lord and responded to God’s call to care for Jesus and Mary. In this way he played his part in God’s plan, and became a blessing not only for the Holy Family, but a blessing for all of humanity. With Mary, Joseph served as a model for the boy Jesus as he grew in wisdom, age and grace (cf. Lk 2:52). When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world. God’s love becomes present and active by the way we love and by the good works that we do. We extend Christ’s kingdom in this world. And in doing this, we prove faithful to the prophetic mission which we have received in baptism.

During this year which your bishops have set aside as the Year of the Poor, I would ask you, as families, to be especially mindful of our call to be missionary disciples of Jesus. This means being ready to go beyond your homes and to care for our brothers and sisters who are most in need. I ask you especially to show concern for those who do not have a family of their own, in particular those who are elderly and children without parents. Never let them feel isolated, alone and abandoned, but help them to know that God has not forgotten them.

I was very moved after the Mass today when I visited that shelter for children with no parents. How many people in the Church work so that that house is a home, family? This is what it means to take forward, prophetically, the meaning of family. You may be poor yourselves in material ways, but you have an abundance of gifts to offer when you offer Christ and the community of his Church. Do not hide your faith, do not hide Jesus, but carry him into the world and offer the witness of your family life!

Dear friends in Christ, know that I pray for you always! I pray that the Lord may continue to deepen your love for him, and that this love may manifest itself in your love for one another and for the Church. Pray often and take the fruits of your prayer into the world, that all may know Jesus Christ and his merciful love. Please pray also for me, for I truly need your prayers and will depend on them always!
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"Do You Love Me? Thank You Very Much!" – In Manila, "The Main Event" Begins

Flying into an event that was already bound to be known as his own "Thrilla in Manila" – for you non-boxing fans, the moniker given 1975's Ali-Frazier III – it was eerily fitting that the Pope started the spectacle with some fightin' words.

Yet even before terming climate change as man's having "slapped nature in the face" and compared incendiary reactions to hate speech to the expectation of a punch from him if somebody "says a bad word about my mother" during an unexpected 50-minute, eight-question presser (English transcript) on the six-hour trip from Sri Lanka, Francis' latest bout with the media began with a stunning left hook: his unprompted announcement that, "God willing, I will do the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra in the United States" during his late September visit.

Given the 18th century Franciscan's legend as the "Apostle of California" in his founding of the state's
 famous missions, beyond the sudden word of what would be the first-ever canonization rite on US soil, the declaration of Serra's sainthood without a second miracle opens the door to a West Coast swing, and affirms the expectation that Francis will make good on his long-held intent to say Mass somewhere along the Mexico-US border – a wish that's reportedly been under pockets of domestic pressure to be squelched. (Now home to the largest diocese in the five-century history of the church on these shores – LA's 5 million-member juggernaut, 70 percent of it Hispanic – the West Coast hasn't seen a PopeStop since LA and San Francisco were on John Paul II's epic 1987 trek.)

As the Serra announcement came in the context of the pontiff's decision to raise Blessed Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka's first saint without the requisite miracle, the Pope replied that his move to confer "equipollent" canonization on a handful of blesseds revered over the course of many centuries was made as each "did great evangelization, and so they are in accord with the theology of Evangelii Gaudium."

Speaking of the governing manifesto that underpins everything in this pontificate, another of its truths similarly bears recalling: the biggest ecclesial victor of Evangelii Gaudium was no global north elite that confuses evangelization with its political causes, but the dynamic missionary witness of an Asian church wedded to the struggles of its people, a place whose vision echoes the Incarnation in employing its own culture for the spread of the Gospel. As the president of the Filipino bench memorably put it in the most loaded speech at the 2012 Synod, "our experience in the Third World tells me that the Gospel can be preached to empty stomachs but only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as his parishioners."

While this weeklong trip's Sri Lanka leg provided a shot in the arm to interfaith relations and a minority church's ability to serve as a "bridge" of reconciliation between warring ethnic groups, in the Philippines, the Pope meets a joyful behemoth – a national fold boasting 10 million more souls than its Stateside counterpart... and yet, as recalled last week, all of two cardinal-electors. Indeed, since the Pinoy Church was finally given home-grown leadership after four centuries of Spanish and six decades of American oversight, global Catholicism's third-largest outpost has seen just eight of its own receive the red hat.

Comprising some 85 percent of the country, this is the church which marshaled the "People Power" that overthrew two presidents in the last three decades. While that's just one explanation of its pastors' status as the most powerful national hierarchy under the Roman sun, evidence of its complacency or arrogance born from said clout is admittedly hard to come by. If anything, the PopeTrip to the islands comes amid a nationally declared "Year of the Poor" – following 2014's "Year of the Laity" – and in his New Year's message, the aforementioned bench-chief, Archbishop Soc Villegas of Lingauyen-Dagupan, took to reproving the symptoms of materialism and more he saw within the clergy:

[T]he sickness of accumulating possessed us so quickly. Money got stuck in our hands instead of sliding to the needy. The car became a status symbol even for the newly ordained when the chrism of anointing had hardly dried. The recreation became more sophisticated to expensive tourist sites unreached by the working class. We were no longer lacking in food; we were now choosing our food after being initiated into the palate of the filthy wealthy.

It is bad for a priest to fall in love with a woman. It is worse if he falls in love with money. Ordination gave us access to church money but that money is not ours to enjoy.

Our ordination gave us powers. In a manner of speaking, the ordained are supermen. But the awesome plan of God cannot be restored by a Church that is more concerned about power than of service, more interested in convenience than sacrifice. A Church that is so focused on the powers of supermen clerics will hardly inspire hearts for renewal. We priests can start touching hearts again if we talk less about our powers and instead expose ourselves more to the power of Christ to change us. When we demand integrity from public officials, can we humbly say like Saint Paul “imitate me because I imitate Christ”? In this Year of the Poor self accusation must precede prophetic denunciation of social corruption....

Clericalism speaks of privilege, prerogatives, entitlement and special treatment. Clericalism prefers sacristies to the slums. Clericalism is more concerned with embroidered vestments than reconciled souls. When we look back at the history of the Church, Church reform always started with clergy reform. As the shepherds go so the sheep follow.

When we lose humility, we lose perspective. When we lose perspective, we also become too reactive. When we become too reactive and possessive and materialistic, we become less effective and less credible as pastors. The loss of humility and the sickness of accumulation in Church ministry can be very costly. With materialistic clericalism laid aside, and Gospel empowered humble shepherding taking its place, we might be able to see the rainbow of hope in the Year of the Poor.

Clerical accumulation injures the idealism of our seminarians, hurts the sensibilities of the youth and confuses many of the faithful who know that Christ lived as a poor man and His disciples cannot be anybody less than that.
In his last plenary speech to the bishops, meanwhile, Villegas urged the brothers to remember that "most frontal attacks on evil just produce another evil in oneself which is an inflated self image."

"Our duty is not to be in the limelight," Villegas said. "Our duty is to be spotlights so that all eyes may see Jesus more clearly and let us help others to see the Lord."

Against this kaleidoscopic backdrop – one stretching from exuberant popular piety in packed streets to continued suffering in the wake of 2013's Typhoon Yolanda (whose survivors Francis will visit Saturday), and the faces of the rescued orphan street-kids he met in an unscheduled stop (above) – this morning the figure who's come to be known locally as "Lolo Kiko" (roughly translated, "Grandpop Frankie") rolled into the walled village of Intramuros, Manila's original Spanish settlement, for a Mass with priests and religious in the capital's cathedral (fullvid) that powerfully displayed the twin vital threads of Pinoy Church: a reverence for tradition, and the vibrant emotion that keeps it alive and magnetic into the present.

Featuring some remarkable ad-libs in what he's long termed his "toughest" language to master, the homily was given in the Pope's rapidly-improving English.

Here it is – no cheating with a text:



As yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the high point of Manila's last sight of a Pope – the 5 million strong throng at Rizal Park which made for John Paul's largest crowd in life – it was fitting that, with estimates for Sunday's encore there now running in the 6-7 million range, Francis took his exit to the hymn of that unparalleled World Youth Day 1995....

Unparalleled, that is, until now:


For God so loved the world
He gave us His only Son
Jesus Christ our Savior
His most precious one
He has sent us His message of love
And sends those who hear
To bring the message to everyone
In a voice loud and clear

Let us tell the world of His love
The greatest love the world has known
Search the world for those who have walked
Astray and lead them home
Fill the world's darkest corners
With His light from up above
Walk every step, Every mile, Every road
And tell the world! Tell the world of His love!
As few parts of this Church can do that better or more powerfully than the Pope's hosts over these days – a million of whom lined the streets just for last night's ride from the airport – get ready for quite the weekend... and if the tropical storm currently tracking toward the islands indeed hits, well, God help us.

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