LIVING up to his sobriquet as “the people’s pope,” Pope Francis made another pitch for the poor and the protection of families on Friday as he urged government officials and church workers to reject materialism and live “the poverty of Christ.”
Helping the poor and “scandalous inequalities” were the common themes of the pope’s speeches at Malacañan Palace where he was given a state welcome, the Manila Cathedral where he said mass with priests and nuns and at the Mall of Asia where he met with Filipino families.
“It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good,” the 78-year-old pontiff said after state ceremonies at the Palace grounds.
“(The great biblical tradition) bids us to break the bonds of injustice and oppression, which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities. Reforming the social structures, which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart,” he said.
The pope stressed that his visit was mainly pastoral and was his way of condoling with the victims of Typhoon Yolanda and encouraging the millions of Filipino workers overseas who make “real contributions to the life and welfare of the societies in which they live.”
He delivered a similar message during his second engagement when he celebrated his first papal mass in the country before 2,000 priests and nuns at the Manila Cathedral.
The pope used a small dark blue sedan to go to the Palace for the state ceremonies and the streets were again lined with screaming Filipino Catholics, who waited for hours to get a quick glimpse of the 78-year-old pontiff, as they did on his arrival on Thursday.
But from the Palace, Francis used the pope mobile and again passed through streets lined with people shouting “We love you, Pope Francis” and “Mabuhay Lolo Kiko [Long live Grandpa Francis].”
Although the papal mass at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros was meant exclusively for the clergy and religious, the pope was greeted by a large crowd, which police estimated at 12,000, at the Plaza di Roma in front of the cathedral.
“My sacrifice was worth it. I feel happy. I feel blessed,” Nanette Hermano, 56, told AFP as she cried after taking a smartphone picture of the pope outside the cathedral.
“I’ve been here since 3:00 am, but I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel hungry. It’s like a miracle.”
During the pontifical mass, which included elderly priests and nuns in wheelchairs as well as young seminarians, Francis urged his audience to live the poverty of Christ and do away with complacency.
“Do you love me?” he asked during his homily and the church men and women before him replied with a resounding “Yes.” “Tend my sheep,” the pope added, repeating the words of Jesus in the day’s gospel.
“All pastoral ministry is born of love,” the pope reminded his audience.
“The great danger is a certain materialism which can creep into our lives and compromise the witness we offer. Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
“We will see things in a new light and thus respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization and scandalous inequality,” he added.
He also urged Catholic leaders in the Philippines to resist powerful forces that are tempting youth with “confusing” versions of sexuality, marriage and the family.
The pope urged them to counsel young people, who may be confused and despondent living in a corrupt society, on traditional values.
“Proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family,” Francis said.
“As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”
He repeated the message at the Mall of Asia, which has a capacity of 20,000 people, where he again celebrated mass before Filipino families, but there were thousands more outside the arena and the route where his pope-mobile passed.
The pope noted that there may be many pressures on family life.
“Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats! The Philippines needs holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families. Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself,” he said.
“Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death,” he added.
“While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality,” he said.
“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” he added.
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