Few days from now, Pope Francis will be in the Philippines for a five-day (January 15-19, 2014) state and apostolic visit primarily to comfort and inspire Filipinos particularly the typhoon and earthquake victims in the Visayas. According to reports, the Holy Father specifically wishes to share his time and to be with the suffering people, urging everyone to strengthen their christian faith especially in trying times. This is the reason why the central theme for the Holy Father’s visit to the Philippines is “mercy and compassion” or “Awa at Malasakit” in our native tongue. Indeed, all of us can be instruments of “mercy and compassion”……at yun ay ang pagiging taos-pusong mahabagin at mapagmalasakit sa kapwa lalong-lalo na sa mga hikahos sa buhay at tunay na nangangailangan ng anumang tulong.
Pope Francis proclaimed 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life which started on the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, and will close on the World Day of Consecrated life on February 2, 2016. Towards the end of his letter addressed to consecrated men and women (priests, nuns and other religious men and women) worldwide, the Holy Father posed certain questions which serve as guide for personal, communal or institutional reflection, for them to examine their religious lives in the light of the Gospel and to make “evangelical decisions leading to revitalization, bearing fruits of joy”. Being the head of those who have been blessed to have consecrated life, Pope Francis in the same letter wrote a very inspiring phrase, which states: “ I want to say one word to you and this word is joy. Wherever consecrated people are, there is always joy. It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus; the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us, not the joy of the world”.
To celebrate the Year of Concentrated Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will hold related gatherings during the entire year-long event providing opportunities for dioceses, parishes and schools to explore and for their community to gain deeper understanding of what religious life is all about. The USCCB shall encourage, among others, the said catholic institutions to initiate and conduct a Day of Open House, A Day of Service and A Day of Prayer and all these are to be undertaken by and with the religious and the community.
For Filipino Catholics particularly the clergy, they will have to doubly work hard during Year 2015 as it is not only the Year of Consecrated Life but it is also the Year of the Poor. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has dedicated the Catholic Church this year as the Church of the Poor, a community of believers in Christ with more empathy towards others and the desire to help those in dire need. The CBCP clarified that being poor does not merely pertain to the materially poor but also those poor in spirit, and those who need our help through prayers. Everyone, regardless of status in life, is encouraged to actively participate and unite particularly in fund raising undertakings so as to restore activities promoting integrity and truth, justice, peace and love which are all essential variables in poverty alleviation and uplifting the lives of the poor.
The Holy Father in his forthcoming visit to the Philippines would like to start his pastoral journey by spending his first month of 2015 during the Year of Consecrated Life, among others, with the disadvantaged and the lowly Filipinos setting a very good example to his flock. His visit to the Philippines is both timely, significant and an opportune moment for him to underline his deep concern for the Filipino people especially those who have been ravaged by the strong typhoons and earthquake. It is timely and significant since it is also the year of the poor in the Philippine Catholic Church, and because the Holy Father saw how some Filipinos suffered during the typhoons and the earthquake, he does not simply want to feel their plight, but he also want to actually listen, touch and be of help to them, a humble act of compassion which could uplift the spirits of the poor and make them happy.
As the visible head of the Church on earth , the Holy Father just like the Good Shepherd is reminding everyone not to merely receive and hear God’s Word but also to practice and act upon it. Pope Francis said that we should not be “Christians in appearance” or “made-up Christians” because it easily runs off when rain comes! To be true christian is to put the Word of God into practice. As such, during the Year of the Consecrated life, the Holy Father is challenging religious men and women to go out, spread the Good News and help people to realize the beauty of life, of being a CHRISTIAN and a follower of Christ. Religious men and women bear not only the responsibility of adoring God such as spreading God’s word but also serving God by helping those in need.
Similarly, the CBCP is suggesting that in the Year of the Poor, we have “to look into the eyes of the crucified Lord and to reflect on the 8 Beatitudes or Blessings (e.g. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, etc.) of Jesus. In so doing, we will be guided in our spiritual endeavors to help and in return be blessed by our good deeds in keeping with the law and word of God. As mentioned by the Holy Father, “Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ, in the humble, the poor, the sick, in children”.
The Holy Father is considered as a champion of the poor, making the disadvantaged as one of his primary focuses and objectives. With his pastoral visit few days from now, I trust the Holy Father would be able to inspire, comfort, give hope and joy particularly our brothers and sisters who are most in need. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle opined that the papal visit “will make a difference in the lives of the Filipino people” and “will definitely offer great opportunities to experience grace.”
In this time of preparation for the Holy Father’s visit to the Philippines and in observance of the Year of the Consecrated Life and the Poor, I echo the call of the Holy Father for prayer and action for those in religious life, for the intentions of the Philippines, for the Filipino people to always turn to Jesus not only in times of need but always and for world peace.
By gazing on Christ crucified, may God grant us mercy and compassion and that we may be instruments of God’s compassion, mercy and healing grace to one another. Amen.