A Timely Award

by Juan L. Mercado

Time magazine, this week, chose  Pope Francis for it’s “Person of Year” award.  In less than a year on Peter the Fisherman’s chair,  the former Argentinian cardinal had the greatest impact on the world.

“Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly – young and old, faithful and cynical as Pope Francis,”  explained Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs.   “What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he captured the imagination of millions who’d given up on hoping for the church at all.”

“People (are) weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” In a few months, Francis elevated the healing mission — the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work.

Indeed, the “iconic spiritual leaders of our time took decades of struggle and growth before they were formed into the universally recognized symbols that we know and love”, wrote  Ambassador Akbhar Ahmed earlier.  He  chairs  Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC. “Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa,  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela are universally recognized examples.”

But  “Pope Francis is an exception,” he adds. “He comes to us, as it were, fully formed. In terms of his tenure as pope, he is in his infancy. And yet Francis seems to have hit his stride” This is seen in his reaching out to Muslims to shared Muslim-Christian  reverence for the Mother of Jesus.

From his first foreign policy address, in March. Francis made improving Muslim-Catholic relations a top priority.  Before ambassadors from 180 countries, he explained how he wanted to work for Muslims and Catholics to intensify  dialogue.

“The Pope, does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all”, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi SJ  said. “If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as ‘Person of the Year’ means many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he’ll  certainly be glad.”

Months before the Time’s “Person of the Year award, Matthew Kneale wrote in the New Statesman of London that the pontiff’s seems to see his task as that of purging his church of luxury.

“He is truly the Austerity Pope for this new age of austerity. He shows intense empathy for the poor, the unemployed and struggling economic migrants. After he drownings off Lampedusa, he said “today is a day of tears…(But the) world does not care about people fleeing slavery, hunger, fleeing in search of freedom”.  In Cagliari, Sardinia, he protested “the world has become an idolater of this god called money”.

“To his credit, he backs up his views with action. He drives around Rome in an old Ford Focus and lives, not in the Apostolic Palace, but in a simple house in the grounds of the Vatican. At a detention centre in Rome, soon after his coronation, he washed and kissed the feet of young offenders, including a Muslim woman.”

He expects the rest of the Catholic Church to follow his example. This summer he told a group of young nuns and monks, “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest model car. You can’t do this.” He added, “Just think of how many children die of hunger and dedicate the savings to them.”

Last month he denounced those ambitious “airport bishops” looking out for a more prestigious diocese. He compared them to men “who are constantly looking at other women more beautiful than their own”, adding:  “Careerism is a cancer.”

Yet it is far from certain how enduring his revolution will prove in the long term, the New Statesman adds. “If the past is anything to go by, trouble is likely to surface after his pontificate. Already, he is 76. The Catholic Church has never been good at appointing radical young firebrands.

“Look into the future, a pope or two down the line. And it would not be surprising if lesser bad habits had begun to creep back, though one would hope that the church’s worst abuses will have been exorcised.

“When one strips away the robes and the pomp, what is the Vatican?  Like  the government of China and like so many other regimes of our time, is is authoritarian. The Vatican lacks transparency. It is not overseen.  Ultimately it is accountable only to itself.”

Such an arrangement tends to nurture corruption. And it is commonly the fate of such regimes they will clean up their act only when forced to do so by their own dire prospects: when catastrophic failure begins to seem a distinct possibility. “This, as Pope Francis now recognizes, seems to be the case with his Church.”

How will the Time selection play out in the Philippines?  Cardinal Luis Tagle and most bishops will welcome the choice. But Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles? Typhoon Yolanda and other disasters could be the result of “ungodly” laws. Such as? Why the  such as the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, of course.

Here  the Lipa prelate  he accuses his own “God” of bringing super-typhoon: “Yolanda” down on those helpless Catholics of Central Visayas, Mariano  Patalinghug emailed from Yonkers, New York.

“ This archbishop continues to obsess about contraception and probably also about abortion and gay marriage.” “ I do not think that this archbishop knows that there is a new Pope. His name is “Franics”.

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