Discernment and dignity at heart of Pope’s words to Filipino leaders
(Vatican Radio) The first full day of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the people of the Philippines began with an official welcome from the country’s leader Begnino Aquino in the Malacanan presidential palace in Manila. A private encounter between the Pope and the President was followed by a meeting with the country’s diplomats and political leaders, during which the Holy Father challenged the nation’s ruling class to tackle what he termed the “glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities” that persist in their country today.
The head of Vatican Radio’s English Section, Sean Patrick Lovett is in Manila following this papal visit and takes as closer look at what the Pope had to say….
The contrast was striking.
One moment the Pope was outside, being driven through the streets of Manila amid the raucous noise and confusion of excited crowds – the next he was inside the solemn and austere confines of the Presidential Palace being greeted with hushed and respectful tones by members of the Philippine government and diplomatic corps.
The first part of Friday morning’s official welcome ceremony at Malacanan required the Pope to sign the so-called “Golden Book”. This is what he wrote, in English: “On the President and people of this beloved land of the Philippines, I ask Almighty God’s abundant blessings of wisdom, discernment, prosperity and peace”.
That’s something new. Not the fact of signing the visitor’s book or invoking blessings of prosperity and peace. It’s that word “discernment”, a very Jesuit word, most often associated with Ignatian spirituality, the simplest meaning of which is “the ability to decide between truth and error, between right and wrong”.
It’s the word that set the tone for the Pope’s first public speech here in the Philippines, a speech addressed precisely to those who make the decisions: government leaders, authorities, diplomats, and the President himself.
Pope Francis began by repeating the primary reason for his visit to this country: to express his closeness “to those who endured the suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda”. But he quickly went on to the heart of his message which regarded what he called “the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity”. The Pope spoke of the need to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities”. He called for greater attention to be given the poor and the family, and for greater respect for the rights of conscience, religious freedom and the right to life. “A culture of integrity”, he said, becomes “the moral glue which holds society together”.
The Pope concluded by praising efforts “to promote dialogue and cooperation between the followers of the different religions” and expressed his trust that “progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions” and in respect of the inalienable the rights of all, “including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities”.
In his welcome speech, President Benigno Aquino III, began by praising the contribution of the Church in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and its role in the People Power Revolution that brought about the dictator’s downfall in 1986. But he went on to make critical comments aimed at what he called “some members of the clergy” in the Philippines for being silent “before the wrongs of the previous administration” and for “rendering judgement without an appreciation of the facts”.
It will be interesting to see how both speeches are commented upon by the media over the next few hours and days. I promise to keep you informed.