Pope Francis: “I ask that the poor throughout this country be treated fairly”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 January) — If Typhoon Amang had not cut short Pope Francis’ visit in Leyte on Saturday, Pope Francis would have personally told the priests, religious, seminarians who gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration in Palo, Leyte to do “even more” for the poor and to treat the poor with dignity.

“Today, from this place which has known such profound suffering and human need, I ask that even more be done for the poor. Above all, I ask that the poor throughout this country be treated fairly – that their dignity be respected, that political and economic policies be just and inclusive, that opportunities for employment and education be developed, and that obstacles to the delivery of social services be removed,” the Pope said.

“Our treatment of the poor is the criterion on which each of us will be judged,” the Pope said in his undelivered address, a copy of which was posted in the Vatican website (vatican.va)

The theme of the Pope’s visit to the Philippines is “Mercy and Compassion.” He arrived Thursday evening and all his speeches and homilies in Manila and Tacloban since Friday morning have focused on serving the poor, on social justice and human dignity.

“I ask all of you, and all responsible for the good of society, to renew your commitment to social justice and the betterment of the poor, both here and in the Philippines as a whole,” he would have personally said.

Typhoon Amang had intensified into Signal No. 2 by mid-morning Saturday, prompting the Pope to leave four hours earlier than his scheduled 5 p.m. departure.

The Pope managed to address the crowd that gathered in the Cathedral for a few minutes, to announce something he felt so badly about: that he had to leave for the airport for the 1 p.m. flight back to Manila, less than an hour away.

A day earlier, in his first homily at the mass for Bishops, Priests and Religious at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila, the Pope also talked about the poor who are “at the center of the Gospel… at heart of the Gospel.”

“If we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ. As ambassadors for Christ, we, bishops, priests and religious, ought to be the first to welcome his reconciling grace into our hearts. Saint Paul makes clear what this means. It means rejecting worldly perspectives and seeing all things anew in the light of Christ. It means being the first to examine our consciences, to acknowledge our failings and sins, and to embrace the path of constant conversion, every day conversion. How can we proclaim the newness and liberating power of the Cross to others, if we ourselves refuse to allow the word of God to shake our complacency, our fear of change, our petty compromises with the ways of this world, our ‘spiritual worldliness’”? the Pope asked.

Challenge to politicians

But it wasn’t only to the religious that the Pope addressed his concern for the poor. In Malacanang an hour before the Cathedral mass in Manila, the Pope said what is essential in attaining national goals is “the moral imperative of ensuing social justice and respect for human dignity.”

“The great biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities,” the Pope addressed the country’s top officials in Malacanang, adding that “reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.”

He said the Bishops of the Philippines had asked that this year be set aside as the “Year of the Poor” and expressed hope that the prophetic summons “will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and children in the life of the community.”

For Yolanda’s dead and the living

If the Pope’s visit in Palo, Leyte, had not been cut short, he would have told the families of survivors of Yolanda who also gathered at the Cathedral that he is aware many of them suffered greatly not just from the destruction caused by the storm but from the loss of family members and friends.

“Today let us commend to God’s mercy all those who have died, and invoke his consolation and peace upon all who still grieve,” he would have said.

“May we remember in a particular way those among us whose pain makes it hard to see the way forward. At the same time, let us thank the Lord for all those who have labored in these months to clear away the rubble, to visit the sick and dying, to comfort the grieving and to bury the dead. Their goodness, and the generous aid which came from so many people throughout the world, are a real sign that God never abandons us!” the Pope said, echoing what he said during his spontaneous homily at the airport mass in Tacloban City earlier that morning.

He thanked “in a special way” the many priests and religious who responded with such overwhelming generosity to the desperate needs of the people of the areas hardest hit.

“By your presence and your charity, you bore witness to the beauty and truth of the Gospel. You made the Church present as a source of hope, healing and mercy,” the Pope added.

“Together with so many of your neighbors, you also demonstrated the deep faith and the resilience of the Filipino people. The many stories of goodness and self-sacrifice which emerged from these dark days need to be remembered and passed down for future generations,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope was supposed to have lunch with 30 survivors of Yolanda and the earthquake in Bohol but he met with them only briefly as he had to leave for the airport. He was also supposed to have blessed the Center for the Poor in Palo, but the Vatican (Vatican.va) reported that “due to the accelerated schedule, Pope Francis blessed the center from the Popemobile as he drove past en route to the airport.”

The Pope thanked the young seminarians and religious for their “heroic generosity” in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“I hope that you will always realize that true happiness comes from helping others, giving ourselves to them in self-sacrifice, mercy and compassion. In this way you will be a powerful force for the renewal of society, not only in the work of restoring buildings but more importantly, in building up God’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace in your native land,” he said.

At the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Sunday morning, Pope Francis told the youth to “learn to be evangelized by the poor, by those we help, the sick, orphans” who have “so much to give us.”

He also challenged them to “love the poor, with your bishops.”

“Do you think of the poor? Do you feel with the poor? Do you do something  for the poor? Do you ask the poor to give you the wisdom they have?” the Pope asked. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)