After Francis: what the ‘Pope of Surprises’ means for Philippines bishops

Pope Francis’ departure from the Philippines prompted gratitude from leading bishops who encouraged Filipinos to reflect on the Pope’s message and to use discernment in responding to modern life.
“The pope is a pope of surprises, but God also surprised him,” Bishop Mylo Vergara of San Jose said at a press conference following Pope Francis’ departure from the Philippines.
The bishop praised Pope Francis’ “spontaneity” and his appearance as someone who is “one with us.”
“That was his intention, even before coming here. He wanted to be one with us, in mercy and compassion,” the bishop said.
Bishop Vergara was joined by Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, and Secretary Sonny Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operating Office at the Jan. 19 press conference at the Philippines’ Villamor Air Base. Pope Francis had left the air base for Rome earlier that morning.
Cardinal Tagle was grateful for the papal visit, which peaked with a papal Mass of 6 to 7 million people in Manila’s Rizal Park on Sunday.
“All of us are overwhelmed right now with thanksgiving and gratitude to God, to authorities in government and the Church, and the many sectors of society,” he said.
The last papal visit was St. John Paul II’s visit in 1995, he noted.
“This happens once every 20 years. And look at how people still react,” the cardinal said, reporting that the 1995 visit’s theme song still has an effect on people.
“You see how deeply that visit of John Paul II has touched the Filipino,” Cardinal Tagle said. “I’m sure this visit by Pope Francis already has that effect. But we need to allow that to deepen. Let us spend time reflecting on its spiritual message.”
He said that bishops, clergy and laity have all been “challenged by the pope” and that they must work to put it into practice.
Cardinal Tagle said that the Philippines “cannot be shielded from contemporary shifts” and ideas that arrive through media and travel.
“And in fact, not everything that is contemporary is bad,” he said, noting that electronic “gadgets” have vastly improved the ability to communicate.
He added that not everything that is new is necessarily good.
“I think the Holy Father is also inviting us to be discerning and to be critical,” the cardinal explained.
“Here, I think, the Christian spirituality of discernment can be handy. How do we immerse ourselves in the Word of God, in prayer, in the teachings of the Church, and with that deep resource, how do you address the changes?”
According to Cardinal Tagle, Pope Francis sees “popular religiosity” and “the simple faith of the people,” like devotions to the Holy Infant and to the Madonna, as one solid foundation for faith.
“He said it is the Simple faith that may survive the changes in society,” the cardinal said.
Secretary Coloma thanked the Philippines people for their “full cooperation.”
“Our people responded from the heart. They responded with faith,” he said.
The press conference closed with prayers of thanksgiving for the visit and prayers for the safe flight of Pope Francis back to Rome.

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