Notes on the Papal Visit
When Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1995, I was still a practicing Catholic. About a year later, I decided to break away from the Church and its conflicting teachings/ attitudes towards homosexuality. The tenet of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ didn’t sit well with me simply because of its divisive nature. I felt that separating my identity from my behavior is a losing game because isn’t our behavior the expression of our identity? So I stopped going to church every Sunday, confessing, even praying the rosary. I didn’t stop believing in God, or what some would call a Supreme Being; I just stayed away from Catholicism. This decision brought me peace and relief from the guilt that wracked me before.
Around 2007, while living in Cambodia, I started attending masses again, mainly because I enjoyed the feeling of solidarity of my fellow expat Filipinos. But I never confessed and took communion.
So when it was announced that Pope Francis will visit the Philippines, I didn’t feel anything. I likened it to a state visit by a foreign head of state (which was also true because he is Vatican City’s head of state). However, as I watched the TV coverage of his arrival, I felt differently. My heart seemed to expand inside my chest that I couldn’t breathe from elation and delight and I-don’t-know-what-else. When he started kissing children tears welled up in my eyes. I can’t explain it. After this, following his daily activities took a huge chunk of my waking hours. He never missed a step in my eyes: the warm, sincere smile, the genuine affection for children, and his inspiring words, to name a few.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds soon filled up with bits of his speeches/ homily. So far, Pope Francis was living up to the hype that preceded him. That was until the Meeting with the Families event at the MOA Arena, where two of his statements caught my attention. The first alluded to the family being ‘threatened by growing efforts to redefine the very institution of marriage’. The second was in defense of Pope Paul VI who, according to Pope Francis, ‘had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when people were worried about population growth’.
These statements made me rethink Pope Francis’ apparent progressive streak which, as it turned out, is still up for debate. I can’t say I’m surprised because certainly it would take more than one man–even if he’s the Pope–to change these precepts on marriage and birth control. So how did these affect my perception of Pope Francis? I still like the man, even if I sensed that we will most probably remain on opposite sides of the fence on these issues.
During his final mass at the Quirino Grandstand, I listened intently to his homily but found it somewhat lackluster compared to his previous homilies. And I couldn’t help but notice another thinly-veiled jibe against family planning. In this visit, I heard a number of buzzwords that were included in his messages, such as ‘openness to life’ and ‘culture of the ephemeral’. One word that caught my attention was ‘peripheries’ because I heard this term used by other members of the clergy. I think this meant people who live in the fringes of society.
However, whenever they say peripheries, I hope they don’t just mean the poor, the imprisoned, and the disenfranchised but also those who, for any reason, do not conform to certain people’s standards of morality and/ or righteousness. such as the LGBT, the sex workers, the drug users, the single parents, the unmarried couples who are raising families, etc. who have been stigmatized and discriminated against in the name of religion.
In addition, I am also not quite comfortable with the line of thinking that we, especially the poor, are all ‘children in the eyes of God’. The emphasis on the Sto. Nino only compounded this feeling. On one hand, being referred to as a child implies innocence of character. On the other hand, it also implies lack of agency. Whatever happened to free will? I thought that “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa”? I think this is a clear manifestation of how the Church (and even the state) views poor people. There is clear focus on their needs but there is no recognition of, and consequently no investments, in their potential.
I guess the buzzword that I was looking for was ’empowerment’. I wonder if the Church is ready for an empowered (involved and critical) flock.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for taking the time to visit my country, the survivors of typhoon Yolanda, and some of our street children. You have revitalized the faith of many, I am certain; though for how long I am not sure. Just so you know, the family that hosted your meeting with the families took advantage of your visit and uprooted the contested trees surrounding their mall in Baguio City while all eyes were on your Holiness. I am quite sure our bickering politicians are already preparing to play with your words and messages to fit their own agenda.
Above all, thank you for allowing me to re-examine my decision to stop practicing this religion. It wasn’t as painful as the previous occasions but nevertheless I learned a lot about myself and my faith. I still have a high opinion of you despite our differences. I think you will be a good shepherd of the Catholic flock. Your humility shows me that the Papacy is a human institution–of divine inspiration but not infallible. So thank you, Pope Francis, for giving me the opportunity to stand by my decision.
Posted on January 19, 2015, in events, journal and tagged Family Planning, Leyte, LGBT, Manila, Mercy and Compassion, Papal Visit 2015, Peripheries, Philippines, Pope Francis, Same-sex Marriage. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.