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PERSONAL ESSAY: Why is Pope Francis here?

BACLARAN (MindaNews/15 January) — Finally, Pope Francis is here. A grand welcome has been prepared for him by both the Philippine Church and the government.

Why is he really here? What is the purpose of his visit? No one really has full answer except Pope Francis. We cannot presume to read the mind of the pope –we can only try to deduce or to guess. Perhaps, in his homilies and talks the purpose of his visit can become clearer. But we still have to read between the lines because there are deeper reasons that may not be explicitly stated. An interpretative analysis may still be necessary. I would like to share my own conjecture of what I believe is one of the most important reasons.enda that is not explicitly stated. In his first trip outside of Rome after his election, Pope Francis went to Lampedusa to offer prayers for the victims of the tragic shipwreck that claimed the lives of refugees coming from North Africa. At first glance, it was a gesture of his compassion and solidarity with the victims. A deeper analysis would show that it was also meant to draw attention to the flight of refugees and the indifference of European nations that have adopted restrictive policies that made it difficult for people escaping poverty and violence in their homeland to migrate to the European continent in search for a better life. His Lampedusa visit was a prophetic act meant to awaken the conscience of governments and the people of Europe and other wealthy countries. The pope tied the tragedy to the “inhuman global economic crisis, a serious symptom of a lack of respect for the human person.” Calling the tragedy shameful, he asked everyone to make sure that it will never happen again. So, his visit was not just an expression of his mercy and compassion. He also asked people to look at the causes of such tragedy and act so that it will never happen again.


The theme of the papal visit to our country is “mercy and compassion.” Everyone presumes that the Pope is coming to express his sympathy and compassion for the victims and survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. This is why the highlight of his visit is the Mass in Tacloban and lunch with representatives of the victims and survivors. It was reported earlier on that he was deeply moved by the tragedy. This is why he immediately sent Cardinal Robert Sarah as his personal representative to express his solidarity with the victims and paved the way for his coming. But there is much more to that. He is coming not just for the victims and survivors of Yolanda but for all of us as a people and as a nation. We are on top of the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. We have been visited by a series of super-typhoons and floods through the years – not only Yolanda but Sendong, Pablo, Ruby, Seniang. There is to more come. All these are manifestations of the effect of climate change.


And the most vulnerable are the poor. The Yolanda victims and survivors represent all of us and the rest of the world – especially the poor — that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Pope Francis’ awareness of the link between Yolanda and climate change is evident in his address to the Vatican diplomatic corps in January 2014: “I wish to mention another threat to peace, which arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if ‘nature is at our disposition’, all too often we do not ‘respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations’. Here too what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this earth which is our common home. I recall a popular saying: ‘God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives!’. We have also witnessed the devastating effects of several recent natural disasters. In particular, I would mention once more the numerous victims and the great devastation caused in the Philippines and other countries of South-East Asia as a result of typhoon Haiyan.”


Previously an analyst wrote: “the new pontiff’s role in assisting the world’s disadvantaged will be inextricably linked to the ravages of climate change, the fast-growing global crisis that will hit the rising global impoverished populations hard with increasingly deadly droughts, floods and storms as heat-trapping carbon pollution continues to build in the atmosphere.” (Rocky Kistner) . Pope Francis took name of St. Francis of Assisi because of his love for the poor and the environment.

It has been reported that Pope Francis will soon publish an encyclical on climate change. I believe that his visit to the Philippines is part of his agenda regarding climate change and its effect on the poor. Once again like his Lampedusa visit, this is a prophetic act that will draw attention to the effects of climate change, link it to the global economic system and the consumerist-materialistic culture that is destroying this earth in the name of economic progress.

The gaze of world is not only on Pope Francis but on us. Pope Francis is here, not to draw attention to himself but to our plight as a nation and as people – especially the poor in our midst –who are most vulnerable to climate change. I’m sure that the pope would be embarrassed to see his images plastered all over the country. The pope does not want us to focus our gaze on him but rather on the poor and the victims and survivors of the calamities.

As we welcome Pope Francis we too are invited to share his concern about the environment and about climate change. We need to look at our own lifestyle and to act to mitigate or reverse climate change. As PCP II reminds us, we are called to “care for the needy and care for the earth.”

Mercy and compassion must therefore be concretely expressed not just in our care for the poor but through our action to care for the environment. (Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR or Fr. Picx of Iligan City is now based in Manila as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Basic Ecclesial Communities. He biked from Baclaran in Metro Manila to Iligan in Mindanao from December 10 to 23, to call attention to climate change and the survivors of killer typhoons).

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