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Pope St John Paul II still inspires, provokes 25 years after Manila visit

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 visit to the Philippines that gave him the record of celebrating the largest Mass in his historic papacy.

Rather than focus merely on trivia, perhaps a better way to remember the papal visit is to echo his words that are still relevant to the people of the Philippines.

Pope St. John Paul II fondly referred to himself and Filipinos as “old friends.”

Upon his arrival at the Manila airport in 1995, the Polish pope immediately said: “The Filipino people are never far from my mind and heart, and I reach out to embrace each one with esteem and affection. We are indeed old friends, ever since my visit in 1981.”

At the University of Santo Tomas, he received a reception that was something akin to one that we would normally give a rock star. He was so energized, and he gave back by stoking a sense of national pride in the Filipino, especially the youth.

We are so used to being put down as a people by our own powerful personalities, including supposed public servants, but there was the pope who told the youthful university crowd: “I see that it was my great privilege to be here and to discover anew this phenomenon I knew before.”

“By today I knew better. This great phenomenon of the world and of the Church and to the world and to the Church and this phenomenon is called Filipino people … to discover anew the Philippines that is this phenomenon that I admire, and I should.”

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The world’s youth also came in their thousands to Manila for the pope’s 10th World Youth Day.

The year 1995 was arguably in the early years of contemporary “globalization,” when the big countries were quickly coming to an agreement on tariffs and trade, and later be forming a World Trade Organization to promote multinational companies and ideas that promote unbridled capitalism, individuality, and the destruction of solidarity.

In short, big changes were under way worldwide in favor of big business and to the detriment of human dignity.

The pope told Filipinos in Manila’s Luneta Park: “False teachers, many belonging to an intellectual elite in the worlds of science, culture and the media, present an anti-Gospel.”

“They declare that every ideal is dead, contributing in this way to the profound moral crisis affecting society, a crisis which has opened the way for the toleration and even exaltation of forms of behavior which the moral conscience and common sense formerly held in abhorrence.”

“When you ask them ‘What must I do?’ their only certainty is that there is no definite truth, no sure path. They want you to be like them: doubtful and cynical. Consciously or not, they advocate an approach to life that has led millions of young people into a sad loneliness in which they are deprived of reasons for hope and are incapable of real love.”

He was apparently referring to the “dog-eat-dog” and “you’re on your own” mentality promoted by globalization and neoliberalism.

Little did we know then the immense and profound impact imperialist-led “globalization” and its neoliberal values would have to both individuals and societies worldwide.

The pope insisted: “The effective and guaranteed observance of respect for human dignity and human rights will be impossible if individuals and communities do not overcome self-interest, fear, greed, and the thirst for power.”

In other words, the capitalist and neoliberal values of “self-interest, fear, greed, and the thirst for power” would deny and make impossible “the effective and guaranteed observance of respect for human dignity and human rights.”

The pope also spoke to Filipino bishops as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines commemorated the 400th anniversary of the episcopacies in Manila and other parts of the country.

He reminded the bishops that “families need help to offset the negative social and cultural effects accompanying the rapid and profound economic transformations taking place throughout Asia,” apparently referring to the then-steady march towards “globalization” by way of privatization, deregulation and liberalization.

“You know well the enormous challenges presented to you as bishops: the loss of noble ideals, confusion of the moral conscience regarding good and evil, growing materialism and religious indifference, the injustices inherent in certain economic and political policies, the increasing gap between rich and poor.”

“By addressing these and other questions with the liberating power of the Gospel your pastoral mission goes to the heart of Filipino society,” he said.

In fairness, the pope honored the Filipino bishops by acknowledging and praising the commitment of the Plenary Council of the Philippines: to be the Church of the poor, with a preferential option for the poor.

“A situation where economic wealth and political power are concentrated in the hands of a few is, as you have written, ‘an affront to human dignity and solidarity.’ Too many families remain without land to till or a home to live in, and too many people are without employment and basic services.”

“Your task must be to help create a new attitude, a conviction shaped by the principle of the social purpose of power and wealth, which can lead to appropriate changes in the prevailing order,” he said.

Fast forward to 2020, and we see the world’s biggest countries and biggest corporations continue to deny climate change because it is inconvenient to their operations.

Human rights are under attack as well under strong, autocratic leaders sent to power by angry voters disenchanted by institutions, arguably even including the local Church itself.

Or by the globalists and their demagogues’ systematic use of new media technologies to hoodwink the public. Or by both.

Whether the Philippine bishops heeded the pope’s teaching, and its own declaration to be the Church of the poor in the next 25 years of globalization, neoliberalism and austerity — that’s up for the bishops to assess.

Before leaving Manila, Pope St. John Paul II said: “I take with me a thousand images of the Filipino people. I know your desire for greater justice and a better life for yourselves and your children. No one can underestimate the difficulties you face and the hard work that lies ahead. Above all, no one should pull back from the great demand of real and effective solidarity, a new solidarity between individuals, in families and throughout society.”

In the dog-eat-dog kind of world we live in today, the pope’s words provide a beacon of hope: “There has to be progress in sharing. There has to be a renewed sense of responsibility of everyone for everyone else; we are, each of us, our brother’s keeper.”

Pope St. John Paul II would never be able to come back to Manila, but his words continue to inspire and to provoke.

Tonyo Cruz is a Filipino blogger, newspaper columnist, and convener of the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.

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