Saturday, January 24, 2015


Last January 14, the Philippines has once again experienced a shot of spiritual high in the form of Pope Francis’ visit just a few days after that frenzy in Quiapo, Manila.

Whether the very warm welcome is a sign of the people’s holiness reaching record-breaking status or simply a typical response of a celebrity-crazed nation (i.e. bringing back to office a plunderer and former action star, making a congressman out of a boxing sensation), the Pope’s short stay has made an impression.

What an impression, indeed. Ever since his inauguration, news all over the world proclaimed him as a great breath of fresh air, a very dynamic, progressive man of faith. Approachable, humble, and bearing a selfie-ready smile for Instagram, the latest Pope can easily bring one’s heart a-flutter.

But in what would be the most head-scratching statement I have heard in this time and age, the Pope said in one of his speeches during his stay in our country, “The Lord will never let you down. Let us move forward, always forward.”

Head-scratching because of this: How?

How can we ever move forward if the very institution the Pope resides in power—an institution millions of Catholics across the globe proudly hold high above anything else like a badge of honor—remains in a very un-progressive and staggeringly un-forwarding stand on the most pressing issues of the world: HIV and AIDS, unbiased opportunity for women to serve as priests, family planning and contraceptives, unsolved charges on pedophilia within the enclaves of their own churches, and anything that connects to the LGBT community like, you know, equality and human rights.

These are just a few of the realities he has been fence-sitting on if not avoiding altogether.

On June 2013, about an interviewer’s question regarding homosexuals going to church, he gave a statement that made international headlines, and probably the conception of him being the beacon of change: “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” Of course, people ate it up, threw confetti, or opened a bottle of champagne. But here’s the catch: he actually didn’t say anything about supporting gay rights or accepting the community.

He has mastered the art of ambivalence. As a man who reads Borges, Dostoyevsky, and other great literary writers, he knows what to say. He knows his words.

Also, the Pope is backed up by a target-oriented, well-oiled PR machine. You know PR, right? It is the same machine that creates plans and maneuverings on how to market chocolates to children, whey protein to gym-goers, or a toolbox to stay-at-home dads.

As for Pope Francis, his chief PR is Greg Burke, a 53-year-old former correspondent of Fox News, a channel known to be racist, sexist and anything that insults the intelligence. There is no denying that Burke’s job as the Senior Communications Adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State (yup, that’s his official job title) is a success. He made a media darling out of a pope.

That is why it is beyond me that people still fall for labels “progressive” and “a new hope” and so strongly attach them to a man in robes when clearly nothing concrete has ever changed.

Lastly, this is what’s been bothering me. Upon the Pope’s arrival, the story of children crying at the sight of him stepping out of the plane has been repeated many times over on television, radio, and the internet, putting every possible spiritual spin on it. But is it wrong to consider that these children, perhaps just a few percent of them, fall into fits of tears because, even in the presence of such a powerful and authoritative figure, the Pope cannot actually do anything to eradicate the ills of the world like the scheming and corrupt government officials who kissed the ring on his finger or generally the oppressive society they currently belong? Just asking.

I shared a few thoughts to a friend, and he told me, “Just leave him alone. He’s not doing anything to you.” Exactly, my friend. He has not done anything. It makes me want to cry.

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