MY sympathies lie with those who have taken the initiative in trying to shore up enthusiasm for the long-announced-and-much-anticipated coming of Pope Francis to the Philippines. They understand the power of images. The media hype over the life-size cardboard replicas of the Holy Father and such other paraphernalia says a lot about the excitement that has already been stirred up at least among Catholics and admirers of Pope Francis. Everything looks neat.
Except for one thing.
And this one thing is too crucial to ignore: Are these efforts not missing the real and essential significance of the Holy Father’s visit, which is to proclaim Jesus Christ and not himself, in our midst and wherever he goes? Would Pope Francis be happy with a huge personality cult around him in the Philippines instead of the continued growth of faith in Jesus Christ, unwavering hope and both being expressed by love that does justice and compassion among Filipinos? If the Holy Father himself is centered on Jesus the Master, should we not be?
I know I need not belabor this point.
Being a Super Typhoon Yolanda survivor myself, I share in the joy of her victims in both Samar and Leyte as well as in other Central and Western Visayas provinces, who are anticipating a holy person’s visit. But it is a joy that comes from him whose presence the Holy Father brings and proclaims. The thought of that presence of him who caused the infant John the Baptist to “leap for joy” (Lk 1:44) somehow has inspired me to make an ‘unsolicited suggestion’ to those who are distributing the Holy Father’s cardboard replicas.
I am not in the habit of making direct suggestions. But this time I am taking exception to that. Please allow me to do it indirectly.
Just days after Yolanda I witnessed unforgettable traces of an incredibly horrific devastation in Brgy Carmen, Hernani, Eastern Samar. The residents’ huts and their barangay chapel were either blown away or torn down into skeletal remains by mammoth waves and killer winds. All that was left of the chapel were parts of its walls and a roofless ceiling framework. The altar was nowhere in sight. But in its place the residents gathered images of the Sto. Niṅo, Mama Mary and the saints on top of a long table or the remnants of their altar niche.
Then out of the blue our group saw a figure of a young man slowly walking his way to the altar. He had the huge crucifix of the chapel and he was carrying it on his shoulder the way Jesus is usually portrayed when he carries his cross. He wanted to put it where it belongs: at the center of the bare chapel altar. How, neither my companions nor I could tell. One of us, though, was a professional photographer, and he captured the scene in one gripping moment.
That young man’s figure reminds me of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and what he has been doing for the Church and for the world. He has been busy proclaiming to us the Crucified Jesus and bearing him on his shoulder so as to restore him at the center of our hearts and the heart of every human being by his humility and compassion, the humility of Jesus Christ who “emptied himself and took the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7), the compassion of Jesus who “dined with sinners and outcasts” (Mt 9:10-11).Why not a replica that truly captures who the Holy Father is and what his ministry really means?