Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Francis pleads for the suffering folk

Organizers dismiss last Saturday’s death in Tacloban as one of the unavoidable kinks in an otherwise fruitful Papal visit. It’s a bad Filipino trait. In contrast, Pope Francis not only relayed personal condolences but also inquired about funeral arrangements.
Church volunteer Kristel May Padasas, 21, didn’t die of head injury by fate. An unharnessed scaffolding of loud speakers had toppled over the devotees after the papal Mass. Two days prior, a public works u-sec had warned that, despite the rush, physical preparations wouldn’t finish on time, and the wooden stage for the Pontiff’s Mass wouldn’t withstand the forecast incoming storm winds. In effect, somebody goofed: the scaffold maker, the job contractor, or the commissioning church or state official. To sigh in “good fortune” that only one and not more persons perished does not excuse them from legal liability.
Filipinos are wont to leave things to fate. “Bahala na (devil may care) attitude,” Jesuit psychologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao coined in the ‘60s. It has permutations. “Bahala na,” as in “it’s fate,” psyches up the poor to be prone to natural disasters. It helps the migrant cope emotionally, as in “bahala na (knock on wood, wish me luck)” when leaving the family to work in a strange war-torn land. “Bahala na (grin and bear it)” also explains away “inevitable” corruption by whomever Filipinos elect to power. “Bahala na” has spinoffs: the “mañana (procrastination) habit,” “ganyan talaga (that’s life),” and “pwede na ‘yan (that’ll do).” That latter thinking likely prevailed in the slapdash work on the Tacloban scaffold, as it does on shoddy maintenance of commuter trains, or mild scolding of high officials who cause food price spikes, or to limit the prosecuting of pork barrel plunderers to three opposition senators.
Attributing things to chance is not among the messages Francis imparted during his Philippine visit. Why do children suffer, he asked, then answered himself by commiserating with them. Relatedly, why do people die unjustly, like Kristel May? Why are there so many poor?
Someone causes those evils. It’s cop-out to point to Satan alone, and exonerate those who fell for temptations of greed and exploitation.
Francis did not call up fate but individual spirituality. He urged true believers to reject all forms of corruption, as it diverts resources from the poor. President Noynoy Aquino and allies misread it to refer only to his hated predecessors Marcos and Gloria Arroyo. They glossed over the Pontiff’s admonitions in the present tense, like poverty and migration for jobs destroying the family. As Francis flew out Monday, P-Noy told reporters that as far as he’s concerned, four million penurious families have been enrolled in his monthly cash doles. It’s as if alms are enough, no hurry to grow the economy to generate local jobs and so repatriate the ten million overseas workers. Could it be blissful ignorance, or selective attention, as in indicted pork barrel fixer Janet Lim Napoles feeling so blessed, not repentant, that Francis fatefully was arriving on her very birthday?
For P-Noy et al, corruption is a thing of the past. There is no diversion of resources from the poor under him, only fate that millions of families lose loved ones or are made homeless by calamities. They cannot accept till now that the pork barrel, congressional or presidential, past or present, made the poor poorer, ignorant, and incapable. Same with corrupt dealings at the transport, agriculture, natural resources, interior, and justice departments. The text joke that spread despite the cellular service bleeps during Francis’ stay was telling: that in Sri Lanka trained elephants met him at the airport, while in Manila crocodiles did.
Two items to emulate about Francis are his theology and scientism. He speaks with tinges of the great clerical movement against “structural causes of inequality” that swept across the Third World in the ‘60s-’80s. One of his first acts as Pope was to invite to Rome 85-year-old Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, 1968 author of “Towards a Theology of Liberation.” Latin American bishops had embraced its “preferential option for the poor” in the Magna Carta of Medellin that same year, and reaffirmed it in Mexico in 1979. Soon after the meeting with Father Gustavo, Francis issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).” The title brings to mind the Second Vatican Council document, “Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope)” that reversed centuries of preaching that penury and affliction are the lot of man. That paper in turn mirrored John XXIII’s Papal Encyclical “Pacem In Terris,” about Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty. Francis’ issuance exhorts individual spirituality to work for social justice. So in Manila he lamented how “social structures perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and corruption.”
As Vicar of Christ, Francis also champions science to lift man from suffering. He frequently pleads for more resources to ease the effects of climate change, like in Tacloban, worst hit by the strongest typhoon in history. Francis takes the modernist path of John Paul II, who noted that, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Last October Francis lectured at the Vatican Academy of Science that the Big Bang Theory and evolution do not exclude God’s role in Creation. God was not a magician with a wand, he said, but the purposeful Maker of good. And that includes human capacity to reform the self and society, contrary to fatalism. Thus did he plead in Manila for “inclusive policies to promote justice, integrity, and peace.”
All those explain Francis’ concern – that Filipinos must imbibe – for Kristel May, for street children, and for the poor.
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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
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