Pope Francis and Christmas
Is it just me, or has the coming visit of Pope Francis eclipsed the country’s favorite holiday? Are people more excited about the arrival of the “People’s Pope” than Christmas-mania?
Some TV stations have even replaced the usual Yule countdown with that of the Pope’s visit. In Divisoria, sales of the papal souvenirs are brisk. There is an air of anticipation reserved for the biggest global stars. The Pontiff himself gently reminded his flock, “It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus Christ.” (READ: Pope: I shouldn't be the focus of my Philippine trip)
Papa Francesco is the much-needed shot in the arm of the ailing Catholic Church. Racked by scandal and seeming obsolescence, the Pope's unassuming ways has warmed the hearts of many lapsed Catholics who had begun to feel disconnected with their religion. This was borne out in a survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS).
His simplicity is disarming. He speaks without pontificating because it's from the heart.
In February 2013, SWS reported that out of the 1,200 respondents, 9.2% or one out of 11 said they had doubts about their religion. This was the sum of those who strongly and somewhat agreed with the statement, "Sometimes I think that I might leave the Catholic Church."
The same survey showed that only 37% of Catholic adults attended Sunday Mass, a steep decline from 64% in July 1991, who used to attend weekly. Compared to other religions, it was noted that Catholics are less religious and attended Church less frequently.
From 1991-2013, the average annual percentage of adults identifying themselves as Catholics in the SWS surveys varied between a high of 88% in 1997 and a low of 80% in 2007. SWS said the data series indicates a “very slight, but statistically significant, downward trend in the 22-year period.”
In the Philippines, Catholics remain the biggest bloc compared to only 6% who are Protestants, 6% Muslims, 3% Iglesia ni Cristo, 3% who belong to other Christian religions and 0.1% who belong to other religions.
The SWS survey was instigated when Fr Joel Tabora SJ, president of Ateneo de Davao University blogged that there was an exodus of Filipino Catholics from the Church.
Tabora did not mince words when he wrote that the Catholic Church in the Philippines “is in trouble even in Catholic Philippines.”
"There ought to be great concern. People have been leaving the Catholic Church. People are about to leave the Church...What I am picking up is exasperation. People are tired of lousy homilies that ramble in inanities that begin and never end, and never end because they should never have begun. People are tired of being preached at, of being treated as if they were younger than adolescents, of being lectured, of being scolded, of being dictated upon. People are tired of obstinate claims to absolute truth, when the thinking world continues to seek truth," he posted.
Tabora said many Catholics are tired of priests who continue to preach against the Reproductive Health Law even during the Simbang Gabi.
He warned that while priests should teach about RH, "if this is all they’re putting out, if this is the single tune they sing and demand every person dance to, then the party has lost its joy, and people will walk out.
Many progressive Catholics have indeed supported the RH bill even while CBCP staunchly fought against it and even went as far as hinting that those who did not tow the line could be excommunicated. In the 2013 senatorial contest, some ultra-conservative bishops openly campaigned against the candidates who supported the contentious bill, ignoring the separation of Church and State. It fell on deaf ears. Many voters did not heed their call.
Pope Francis is probably the best Christmas gift we can ever receive. Catholic Philippines is back on the right track.
Enter the new Pope whose statements have raised many eyebrows among the conservatives. One of his first declarations was that the Church's priority must be to help the poor rather than focus on divisive issues like contraceptives and reproductive health.
He went on to welcome the homosexual community and the divorcees much to the chagrin of the non-inclusive among the hierarchy. He even comforted a child who lost his dog, saying there's a place in heaven for pets too. Recently, he opened his arms to welcome the Charismatic and evangelical Christians as part of one family.
His simplicity is disarming. He speaks without pontificating because it's from the heart. That he walks his talk is even more amazing. Pope Francis is singlehandedly renewing the Catholic faith and thawing hearts that have grown cold toward the Catholic Church.
In his message at a charismatic conference, he said:
“Two rules: Love God above all, and love the other (neighbor), because he is your brother and sister. With these two rules we can go ahead. I am here with my brother, my bishop brother, Tony Palmer. We’ve been friends for years."
...This brings me joy because we can see that God is working all over the world. Nostalgic (yearning) because...there are families that love each other and families that don’t love each other. Families that come together and families who separate themselves. We are kind of...permit me to say, separated. Separated because, it’s sin that has separated us, all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history.
I am speaking to you as a brother. I speak to you in a simple way. With joy and nostalgia (yearning). Let us allow our nostalgia (yearning) to grow, because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another. And together to worship Jesus Christ as the only Lord of History.
I thank you profoundly for allowing me to speak the language of the heart...Come on, we are brothers. Let’s give each other a spiritual hug and let God complete the work that he has begun. And this is a miracle; the miracle of unity has begun.
A famous Italian author named Manzoni, once wrote in his novel, of a simple man amongst the people, who once said this, “I’ve never seen God begin a miracle without Him finishing it well.” He will complete this miracle of unity. I ask you to bless me, and I bless you. From brother to brother, I embrace you.”
Perhaps there shouldn't be any competition between Christmas and the papal visit. In fact Pope Francis is probably the best Christmas gift we can ever receive. Catholic Philippines is back on the right track. A Church that shuns luxury and politics. A Church that cares and blesses the least of His brethren. Let the bells toll.
A holy Christmas and A blessed New Year to all. – Rappler.com