The Francis Effect

by Juan L. Mercado
It didn’t make waves as the 1986 Catholic Bishop’s Conference pastoral letter did by denouncing the 1986 snap election vote count  by the Marcos dictatorship. That helped trigger People Power One.
CBCP new pastoral letter, issued this month, confirms the early January 2015 visit by Pope Francis. Skip the ceremonies. The pontiff instead urgently seeks to meet with typhoon and earthquake victims in the Visayas.
Titled “A Nation of Mercy and Compassion”, the CBCP letter comes from a local church whose emerging leaders are breaking away from brimstone excommunication threats over issues like the reproductive  health.
The new generation is seen in people like  Cardinals Luis Antonio  Tagle and Orlando Quevedo. They focus on securing justice for slum dwellers to cooperation with Muslims and marginalized minorities. They also live austerely.

“Are we a church that really calls and welcomes sinners with open arms,” Francis asked earlier. “Or we are church closed in on herself?  Are we a church  which is a house for everyone…the strongest, the weakest, sinners, the indifferent…Are we a church where one cares for another, where the face of God dwells?”
Indeed, the distinctive way to prepare for Francis visit is “for the Philippines to become a people rich in mercy,” CBCP president archibishop Socrates Villegas wrote. “Let us make mercy our national identity…Villegas  lists practical daily suggestions from sharing food with the hungry to simple refraining from harsh words.
See this shift in it’s historical context. Two short years ago, the Catholic church then was rocked by the first resignation of a pope in nearly five hundred years. Benedict XVI quit, citing failing health.  The conclave instead  elected a little known cardinal who had already booked his flight to his native Argentina.
Buona serra” Jorge Cardinal Bergolio told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square — and stunned them by asking  for their blessing first.  He took the name of Francis, the mendicant friar from North Umbrian town of Assisi. . The simple life style of Francis and his mendicant followers is credited with recasting a 13th century church fractured by corruption.
From day one, Pope Francis has set the example. He waved aside the emine cloak and handcrafted shoes for  a  papal elect. “Wear it yourself if you wish Monsignor,” he told the attendant. “But this carnival  is over.”
Since then, he  shunned the sprawling Vatican apartment and lodge in a two room flat in a Vatican hostel. He grounded papal limousines, preferring a modest car. He stood in line for coffee. And  more important, he instituted reforms that rocked it’s governing bureaucracy,the Curia, mired in turf wars.
Reforms are tough but progressing, say two key cardinals: Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga and Oswald Gracias of India. They are among eight prelates Francis picked to spearhead his recasting of the church. None are Italians.
By December, this council should have submitted for Francis approval  a new constitution for the Curia that would replace “Pastor Bonus”, the 1988 apostolic charter that is now St  Pope John Paul II.
The reform proposed are comprehensive reforms, writes National Catholic Reporter analyst Thomas Reese, SJ. These range from capping service in the Vatican to five years, bringing more lay people into the Curia, scrapping automatic giving of cardinal red hats to Vatican officials and appointing more  diocesan bishops with expertise to serve  councils. “These would be earth-shaking reforms for the Vatican.”
Francis, meanwhile, named the 58-year old Rainer Maria Woelki as archbishop of Cologne, Reuters reports. He is seen by German media as part of a “new generation” of less dogmatic clergy.
Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper called him “the prototype of a new generation of bishops … not grumpy and dogmatic … These men speak of mercy and mean it. They’re open to people, even their critics, to a point and have a heart for the disadvantaged. Still, they’re theologically conservative,”
Berlin’s Alliance against Homophobia nominated him for its Respect Prize that year, He politely declined the award  saying it was normal for a Christian to respect all people.
The German Catholic Church is one of the richest in the world. missionary work in poor countries. It and various Vatican projects. Worldwide, Catholic population crested at 1.21 billion end of 2011, says the latest  “Statistical Yearbook of the Church.” Increases in Africa (4.3 percent)  and Asia (2 percent ) outpaced that of Europe and the Americas – which merely kept abreast of population growth.
Most Catholics are clustered in the Americas: 49  out of every 100. Europe follows at  25  percent, Africa 16 percent, plus 11 percent in Asia and 0.8 percent in Oceania.
The number of priests, religious and seminarians increased.. In contrast, the number of women, in religious orders, registered “a sharp downward trend since 2001. Worldwide, there has been a 10 percent decrease in the numbers of women religious.
Come October,synod of bishops called by Francis will tackle issues not  even visible  in the horizon at the 1980 conference: surrogate parenthood to childless marriages. That will affect the Philippines where the “Francis effect” is now being felt.

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