Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines is shaping out to be the country’s biggest coming event. Already there’s a scramble to fill precious slots that would bring ordinary folk within the pontiff’s breathing space — whether it be seats in the pope’s flight from Rome to Manila, or a place in His Eminence’s dining table, Filipinos are clambering over one another for a piece of St Peter’s successor and God’s earthly vassal.
A good thing papal climbers might want to keep in mind in the midst of all this is Jesus Christ’s message in Luke 14:8-11…
When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, `Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, `Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
That lesson aside (or rather having long sailed far above most Filipinos’ heads), the circus, it seems, is already coming to town
Already a gaffe coming from no less than the Philippines’ biggest media enterprise is already making waves. ABS-CBN Network had earlier advertised souvenir T-shirts with the messages “No race. No religion. I embrace diversity” and “Ganito ako, ganyan ka. Who am I to judge.” The messages were supposedly meant to convey the spirit of openness that Pope Francis espouses. Unfortunately, Pope Francis does, as a matter of fact, serve as the head of the world’s largest organised religion, something that the Philippines’ Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) highlighted as potentially “misleading”. CBCP president further emphasized…
“Francis has never said and taught that religion and race do not matter, because they most certainly do. It is what selfish, uncharitable and judgmental people do with religion and race that is a problem.”
Apparently both parties in this quaint exchange seem to have presumed that the good Pope couldn’t speak for himself. Fair enough perhaps, considering the Pope himself may not have much of a choice when it comes to diplomatic protocol. During his visit to the Philippines, exclusive chit chat with President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III and his sisters come first in the agenda of the Malacanang leg…
After the singing of the national anthem and the hoisting of the flags of the two states, Pope Francis will proceed to the Reception Hall for the signing of the official guestbook of Malacañang. He will then be ushered into the Music Room for the courtesy call where Aquino’s immediate family members, including his sisters, will be introduced to the Pontiff.
This, despite what will likely to be a queue of Filipinos hoping to be invited to the Malacanang delegation. People who don’t own a prized slot in Aquino’s inner circle shouldn’t hold their breath. According to Communications Secretary “Sonny” Herminio Coloma, it is “customary for Cabinet officials to be present.”
The mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis at the Manila Cathedral following his Malacanang courtesy call is also reportedly reserved for the Philipines’ Catholic elite. According to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, “the Mass on January 16, 2015, will be for bishops, priests, and consecrated persons” only. To be fair, subsequent masses to be celebrate by the pontiff at Manila’s Luneta park and in Tacloban City will be open to the public. Tacloban City was the centre of destruction and loss of life suffered by Filipinos when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck in November, 2013.
What many observers are speculating on is how the who’s-who of Filipino politicians in the race for plum government posts in the lead up to the 2016 elections will be capitalising on the papal visit for their political ends. 2015, as such, is a campaign year and there will be epal (a Filipinoism for “grandstanding”) aplenty. Still, the Pope will be a tough nut to crack. The pontiff is known to shun VIP treatment and overbearing security measures. During his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in May this year, he opted to decline the use of armoured cars, preferring instead to ride his usual white open-top “popemobile”. So finding a way to hook Pope Francis into a media stunt to jump-start (or resuscitate) a public image will be top of mind for Filipino politicians in the coming weeks.
Pope Francis also does not use big armoured limousines as his official means of road travel in Rome preferring, instead, a Ford Focus, a more humble mid-sized sedan, for use as his personal ride. This simple lifestyle will likely put to shame Filipino politicians who often travel around the country’s roads in big black SUVs more than twice the size of the Pope’s car, in motorcades consisting of chase vehicles bristling with gun barrels poking out of their windows, and accompanied by entourages that would dwarf
the team of aides that attend to the needs of God’s earthly prince.
Finally, it should be noted that the Pope will be visiting the selfie capital of the world. So along with crowd control there will be selfie control initiatives as well. An article published on the Pope’s official Philippine Visit website quoted Catholic radio anchor Ansel Beluso’s appeal to the Pope’s Fillipino fans…
“May I just say this: When we take a selfie with a life-size image of Pope Francis on a standee, can we please be more reverential about it? I find it disrespectful when people wrap their arms [around] the Pope’s shoulder, acting like they’re on the same level with him, grinning, patting his head, and mocking his baldness,” he said.
There you go. Many Filipinos have yet to learn the key lessons that one would think will have been learned by the time they graduated kindergarten. Not to worry. As pointed out earlier, the Bible has much to teach grown-ups about good manners too.
[Featured thumbnail photo: Pope Francis on the popemobile courtesy Wheels.ca.]
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