The Focolare Movement is special to me. It was the Focolare that demonstrated to me the great inspiration of the Gospel and how the Gospel could be lived from moment to moment to reinforce our spirituality. Focolare ushered me to living Christ’s commandment “That whatsoever we do to the least of our brethren, we do unto Him.” It’s not surprising that several Focolare initiatives like the Economy of Communion (EoC) have been introduced and promoted in this space.
Ever since the reign of Pope John Paul II, the Focolare became closer to the Vatican. It was the Focolare that inspired Pope John Paul II to start World Youth Day. To further promote their ideals, the Pope gave the Focolare a hall in Gastelgandolfo that included an auditorium that could seat 1,200 persons and quarters similar to two-star hotel standard. Naturally, they also had a dining area that could accommodate 800 persons for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast bread of their commissary was my favorite.
The election of Pope Francis has taken the world by storm in less than a week. There was something in our first ever Jesuit Pope that generated excitement. Pope Francis sent the right signals and proved to be adept in utilizing symbolisms. His style sent signals that significant changes are going to happen at the Vatican. All Catholics are excited and that included the members of the Focolare Movement.
From Maria Voce, Focolare president, came this reaction to the election of Pope Francis: “Together with the whole Church, I am truly happy for this moment, which shows the Church’s vitality and the freshness of the Holy Spirit who always finds a way to amaze us. Besides the surprise, because he certainly was not among the cardinals most mentioned, there is the joy of thinking that this is also a sign of novelty for the Church today, which is living a special moment. This novelty began with Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation from the ministry as Bishop of Rome and was followed by this new Pope who raised an extraordinary echo all over the world. The choice of the name Francis is very significant, because it seems to express the desire for a return to the radical nature of the Gospel, to a simple life and to a great attention to humanity and to all religions too.
It also seems particularly noteworthy to me that a Jesuit chooses the name of Francis: I think it means openness to charisms, to all charisms, to acknowledge and value what is good in each of them. I was also particularly impressed by his simple, informal style when he first appeared on the central balcony: he seemed to know how to touch the hearts of all the men, women and children present in St. Peter’s square. I believe that at this moment in time when there is much suffering in humanity, we need someone capable of touching hearts and letting everyone feel the joy of having a father and a brother who loves us.”
The election of Pope Francis also excited my Catholic faith and gave me hope that reform might finally be on the way. I have been one of the most vocal critics of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) and had gone on record for comparing the actuations of some Bishops with that of the Pharisees, the enemies of Christ
How could right thinking Catholics not be dismayed by the behavior of some of our Bishops? While large-scale plunder was happening in the land, some Bishops shamelessly accepted expensive vehicles in what could only be interpreted as an inducement not to condemn the plunder and other high crimes. They received large sums during their birthdays, amounts that were overly generous and could only be seen as scandalous. They hardly condemned the controversial Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime.
Now we have a rare president, honest and mission driven — President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy). He has reversed our country’s downward economic plunge to the point that our country now merits the recommendation of many foreign investment gurus as the place to invest in. We have a president that has stopped the loss of the peoples’ money due to graft and corruption and by doing so he has increased public benefits like infrastructure, Philhealth and the CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) Program. We have a president that vowed to end the heretofore-perennial classroom shortage problem by the end of 2013. And now because they cannot agree on the RH Bill (Reproductive Health Bill) — these Bishops want to bring this president down.
These Philippine Bishops had crossed the line separating church and state. They are well within their right to counsel their Catholic flock against the use of contraceptives but they have no business imposing what they perceive are Catholic transgressions when it applies to other religious denominations. Such is the mindset of the Pharisees, the enemies of Christ.
Time and again, in this column, I’ve shared my great admiration for the Jesuits. Many Ateneans, at some point of their campus life, seriously considered taking a Jesuit vocation. I did. The Jesuits lived Christianity while most Bishops simply preached it. Like the Focolare, the Jesuits went to the poorest of the poor, loved them, forged unity with them and made them feel wanted and appreciated.
The Jesuits didn’t practice Omerta, the Mafia Code of Silence that some of our Bishops have been practicing during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime. Fr. Joel Tabora and Fr. Joaquin Bernas — both Jesuits — contradicted the stand of the Bishops against the RH Bill, especially their stepping into the realm of politics.
Like Christ, the Jesuits embraced the lepers of this world. Like the Pharisees, some of our Bishops preferred the company of the well-heeled and generous gift givers. Like Christ, the Jesuits were there to provide the light to a soul in the dark. Like the Pharisees, some Bishops made some of their flock feel more desperate and start doubting their faith after seeing that Bishops here do not walk their talk.
Now, in our lifetime, we have the first ever Jesuit Pope. Whom would this development not excite? This is the seventh Pope during my lifetime and in less than a week after his election — he had already demonstrated some major and significant deviations from Church tradition that emphasized the shape of things to come.
* * *
Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”