(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received a warm welcome from bishops, priests, men and women religious and seminarians as he arrived in Manila’s Metropolitan Cathedral on Friday. In his homily at Mass there, the Pope challenged his listeners to show God’s mercy and compassion and become prophetic witnesses to the Gospel in order to transform Filipino society. If the Church fails to put the poor at the centre of its ministry, the Pope stressed, we fail to understand the message of Christ.
The head of Vatican Radio’s English Section, Sean Patrick Lovett is in Manila for the papal visit and tells us more about this first Mass on Filipino soil….
I could begin this report on the Pope’s Mass in Manila Cathedral with bishops, priests, men and women religious and seminarians, by telling you the numbers relative to each category present here in the Philippines. Not that you’d remember. But just in case you are dying of curiosity, here they are:
There are 131 bishops (of whom around 100 are active and the others retired), over 9,000 priests (about two thirds of them are diocesan and one third religious), around 1,500 men religious and over 12,500 women religious belonging to dozens of different orders and congregations. All of them are extremely active in an incredible diversity of ministries and pastoral activities that range from education and health care, to assisting the poorest and neediest members of Filipino society up and down the 7,100 islands that make up this complex archipelago.
And when I say “assisting”, I mean the hands-on kind of assistance involved in helping fishermen rebuild their boats after the latest tropical storm has swept everything out to sea, or playing with children dying of cancer in paediatric wards, or sewing vestments for parish priests who are too poor to buy any for themselves…
So when Pope Francis told them that “all pastoral ministry is born of love”, they knew exactly what he was talking about. They are the hearts and hands that express the “mercy and compassion” that is the theme and leitmotif of this papal visit. “The Gospel”, he said, “calls individual Christians to live lives of honesty, integrity and concern for the common good” and to create “networks of solidarity which can…transform society by their prophetic witness”. Occasionally departing from his prepared homily to reinforce his message, the Pope challenged his listeners to be ”the first to examine our consciences, to acknowledge our failings and sins”. How can we proclaim the newness of the Gospel, he asked, if we ourselves “refuse to allow the word of God to shake our complacency, our fear of change…our spiritual worldliness?”.
Speaking off the cuff, Pope Francis insisted that the Church in the Philippines put “the poor at the centre”. If we fail to do so, he added, “we fail to understand the message of Christ”.
The Pope himself set the warm, familiar tone of the celebration at the very beginning of his homily when he quoted the Gospel passage from John chapter 21 where Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”…Only, in this case, Pope Francis was asking a direct question and referring to the congregation and himself. Needless to say, the response was a resounding “Yes” – accompanied by some rather timid giggles.
I mean it’s not every day a Pope asks you if you love him. Whether you are a religious or not.
With the Pope in the Philippines – I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett
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