Mercedes Arrastia Tuason, the Philippines’ ambassador to the Holy See, told CNA’s Antonio Gonsalves in a Jan. 15 interview she expects Pope Francis’ visit this week to her nation “will make a huge impact on the Filipino people,” and explained why Pope Francis is known there as “Lolo Kiko.”
The full text of the interview follows.
CNA: How important is Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the Philippines in bolstering the ethical, moral, and inspiring traditions of faith in the region?
Tuason: The visit of Pope Francis will be a major, historic event in the Philippines. His presence is certainly a much needed booster shot that will make a huge impact on the Filipino people. It will touch their spirits in a deeply profound way. In a way, we have become calloused and have lost the sense of what is a serious offense against moral principles, and in part the country is besieged with confusion regarding faith and moral values, in discerning what is right and wrong.
Sparked by the enthusiasm surrounding his arrival, we expect to see a renewal of faith, bolstering ethical and moral traditions in the region. However true, our Holy Father asks us not focus on him, but rather to shift our focus to Jesus Christ and the life that he leads.
There is a great fervor, with January 15, 16 and 19 declared to be special non-working holidays for Metro Manila during the visit of Pope Francis.
CNA: How does Pope Francis connect to the world, and especially to Filipinos?
Tuason: The simplicity, humility and compassion of Pope Francis gives him an immediate nearness to people, and so he is able to connect in a very personal manner to everyone. By his manner of being, he gives us an example of how we, the laity and the rest of the ecclesial community, can go to the peripheries to bring the Gospel. This has been his incessant message right from the very beginning of his pontificate. “Mercy and Compassion” is the core of his message, which reflects in the theme logo that highlights Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines.
I am truly grateful, and so are the rest of the Filipino people, for the pastoral care and concern that Pope Francis showed to the Philippines during the natural calamities which beset the country in past years, namely the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu, Typhoon Haiyan which hit Tacloban and other islands of the Visayas, and recently Typhoon Hagupit.
We never felt alone during these difficult moments since we knew that Pope Francis was praying for us and was asking the whole Church to pray for and help the Philippines.
CNA: What is the basis of Filipinos fondly calling Pope Francis – “Lolo Kiko”?
Tuason: On a personal basis, let me tell you an anecdote which clearly illustrates Pope Francis’ charism of connecting with people. In a private audience with a group of Filipinos, he said: “I like the way the Filipinos take care of their elderly. You keep them in your homes and you take care of them yourselves. You call them ‘lolo’ (which comes from the Spanish term “abuelo” or grandfather.” Someone in the group said: “In the Philippines, we call those whose name is Francesco — Kiko.” Pope laughed and said: “And so I am Lolo Kiko.” From that moment on, Pope Francis to us is “Lolo Kiko,” for in the native Tagalog language the word “lolo” means grandfather, and “Kiko,” a nickname for Filipinos named Francisco.
CNA: How do you foresee this visit boosting religious devotions in the family apostolate and invigorating religious vocations?
Tuason: Certainly, even the young are enthused to go to the churches and rediscover their faith. Seminarians too have borne witness that Pope Francis has inspired them to deepen and strengthen their beliefs and vocations. Devotion, most especially to our Mother Mama Mary, has increased and pilgrimage sites have proliferated.
Today many are inspired to re-examine their consciences and re-direct their lives thanks to Pope Francis’ pastoral approach and his advocating for reaching out to the peripheries.
However, vocation is an answer to God’s call in helping him spread his love and mercy. The Pope can certainly inspire more vocations for the Church, however the quality and sustainability of a vocation rests not solely on the Pope’s shoulders, but rather those of the entire community.
We must encourage our priests and strongly support the work that they do, pray for more vocations as a community, and speak about vocations in schools and our homes so that it comes to the fore of our minds.
CNA: Pope Francis’ kindness and his pastoral approach of reaching out to the peripheries, to the marginalized, has been at his heart of his teaching. During this apostolic visit to Philippines he has stressed his priority of solidarity and compassion in meeting his flock, especially those suffering from natural calamities.
Tuason: As I said before, the Filipinos are looking forward to the visit of the Holy Father Pope Francis whom Filipinos fondly call “Lolo Kiko.”
The Pope is not only the supreme pontiff on earth, rather he symbolizes hope itself. For people who have been devastated by natural calamities, the Pope will undoubtedly be able to console them and give them peace and bring a new ray of hope and spiritual bliss. Also, in one of message after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country, the Holy Father encouraged the Filipino population not to fear, but rather to ask God a question, “Why, Why,” like children. We do not even need an answer, but we ask “Why” to attract the attention of the Father. Today, Filipinos will remain most grateful for this visit and this particular attention from our Holy Father.
CNA: Pope Francis will be also meeting religious leaders at the University of Santo Tomas. How do you think this dialogue could serve to promote peace in the pocket areas of Philippines?
Tuason: Indeed, we are all hoping for a new era of peace. We are all praying too for the Fifth Marian Dogma to be proclaimed at this most crucial time in our history, that we may be spared from degeneration, further disaster, and war.
Pope Francis’ visit is going to be earth–shattering in many ways, but it is not a cure-all. The problems of the region are deeply rooted in Asia’s culture, if not mankind’s nature itself – greed, corruption, poverty of the mind and the spirit. We do not expect the Pope’s visit to solve all these, but his presence alone will certainly make a positive impact with long lasting effects for generations to come.