“Focus on Jesus, not me,” said Pope Francis. “Focus on Jesus, not Pope Francis,” said Cardinal Tagle.
Easier said than done. If people find it easier to focus on Jesus and not some personality, the world would not only be a better place, it would be heaven.
I know both Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle meant what they said. I think they both had to say it because of their positions as Catholic leaders. Thank goodness I am not in their place. I can say what I believe to be most realistic and effective without much structural and theological protocol to observe. And having had some training by Jesuits when I studied briefly in a seminary and then college in the Ateneo, I know Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle will understand that I have remained quite influenced all these decades.
So let me now encourage people to focus on Francis the Pope. His very visit demands we focus on him. For months, we have had special prayers for Pope Francis and his papal visit to the Philippines. The Catholic Church hierarchy has been beside themselves with frantic preparations. And not least of all, the government is sparing nothing in terms of welcoming and protecting Pope Francis. In truth, it is impossible not to focus on Francis the Pope.
There is great urgency to focus on Pope Francis. It is because he is the head of the powerful Catholic Church with 1.3 billion members and because he loves the poor – whom the Philippines has tens of millions. We have a man who is listened to because of a captive audience, and listened to because of the influence of his captive audience – the Catholics of the world. We have a man who truly loves the poor, not by conformity to religion but by fidelity to his heart. We have in Pope Francis a man with a transparent life. Through that transparency, his regard for the poor, his relationship with the poor, and his fight for the poor are open to everyone’s scrutiny. How rare for someone who walks first, then talks.
The context of the papacy of Francis adds to his credibility, and influence. He is not a “fighting” pope; rather, he is a pope who wants to reconcile, and leads the Catholic Church in the spirit of reconciliation. Pope Francis is not confrontational, he is radical. He is not an angry man, he is kind. For too long, humanity has assigned courage and bravery with violent feelings and violent acts, even if these are in defence of others. Many Christians seem to have forgotten that, in the face of evil, meekness to the point of martyrdom was the chosen posture of Christ and the early saints.
Precisely because Pope Francis is a man who actively seeks reconciliation, be it with the Jews, the Muslims, or the Orthodox, he has established that he does not want conflict. When he addresses his own institution, the Catholic Church hierarchy, he carries with him that same posture. But his message is clear – he does not seek to compromise either. He just raises the bar beyond the details of conflict to the ideals that all men strive for – peace, respect, justice, love. His words may have chastised those in the Church who would show a contrary posture, yet he shows no anger, only firmness. His reforms are grounded on that – firmness.
After facing the shortcomings of the Catholic Church, some small, others scandalous and shameful, Pope Francis faces those victimized by the actuation of the Church and the religious within serving the institution. He bows before the victims, weeps before them, seeks forgiveness from them. And in utter respect for them and the teachings that the Church stands for, the internal reforms quietly continue – with firmness.
Showing the world where he is coming from, especially in relating to what plagues the Church, Pope Francis addresses his most important concern – poverty. He tells his institution to give priority to the poor. He tells his flock to give priority to the poor. And he tells leaders of the world to flip their pyramid of priorities from amassing wealth to sharing this with the poor. Beyond that, he tells all that poverty has to be dismantled by changing the priority values that economics live by.
Let me cite a few of his pronouncements.
“Poverty in the world is a scandal … unfathomable that there are so many hungry children … so many poor persons.
A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth … to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect of all human beings.
The goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers’ wombs.
Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.
… our goal is not to proselytise, but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair and hope … that the Church must be focused on the poor, not on itself or divisive issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.”
The poor in the world have found a global champion. The poor in the Philippines have found a godfather. Those governing politics, religion, business, and education have to listen to someone who has placed the poor front and center in importance and not as charity cases. Let them focus on Francis the Pope.
The Philippines is in an enviable position to lead the journey out of poverty, not in the way its leaders believe, but in the way that Pope Francis knows. Leaders and citizens are predominantly Christian. Filipinos have the heart, the culture and the need to make it happen.
We must focus on Francis the Pope because he carries a lost message. It is less about telling everyone to focus on Jesus, and very much more that Jesus is focused on us.