Bernardo M. Villegas
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Remembering Visit of Pope Francis

           As we begin another year today, I would like to declare that the best thing that happened to the Philippines and the Filipinos last year was the five-day visit of His Holiness Pope Francis in mid-January of 2015.  I am sure that the more than six million of us who braved rain, fatigue, traffic and sleepless nights have only pleasant memories of those days when the Vicar of Christ, the Sweet Christ on Earth, came to bless our land.  Although I tried to follow him in both Manila and Tacloban (I was at the Mass he celebrated at the Tacloban airport), in my opinion the highlight of his visit was the meeting with families at the Mall of Asia on January 16, 2015.  As a social scientist, I have always maintained that if our country ranks high in the Gross National Happiness index, despite all the natural calamities and absolute poverty still inflicting a fourth of our population, the main explanation is the stability of the Filipino family, at least in relation to many other countries in which the family is under serious threat by such practices as divorce, abortion, contraception and same sex marriage.

          The Pope made reference to his wanting to rest in the Lord with those who were at the Mall of Asia and to reflect with them on the gift of the family.  Using St. Joseph as the model (there are now numerous figurines of St. Joseph sleeping), he emphasized that resting in prayer is especially important for families.  In his words:  “It is in the family that we first learn how to pray.  And don’t forget when the family prays together, it remains together.  This is important.  There we come to know God, to grow into men and women of faith, to see ourselves as members of God’s greater family, the Church.  In the family we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish.  We learn to move beyond our own needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them.  That is why it is so important to pray as a family.  That is why families are so important in God’s plan for the Church!”

          We will be celebrating the Epiphany next Sunday.  This will remind us of how the Three Kings were warned by an Angel not to go back to Herod but to take another road because the evil King had murderous designs on the Child Jesus.  As Pope Francis said in his Address, “The angel of the Lord revealed to Joseph the dangers which threatened Jesus and Mary, forcing them to flee to Egypt and then to settle in Nazareth.  So too, in our time, God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm.  We must be attentive to the new ideological colonization.”

          The Pope did not mince words in describing the nefarious effects of anti-family influences coming from some developed countries in North America and Western Europe.  He wants us to beware of the new forms of colonization that try to destroy the family.  Comparing it to the fight for freedom against colonial masters in the past, he exhorted us to say “NO” to ideological colonization that attempts to destroy the family.  He made special mention of Blessed Paul VI who had the strength to defend openness to life:  “He knew the difficulties families experience and that’s why in his encyclical (Humane Vitae) he expressed compassion for specific cases and he taught professors to be particularly compassionate for particular cases.  And he went further, he looked at the people on the earth and he saw that lack (of children) and the problem it could cause families in the future.  Paul VI was courageous, a good pastor and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching.  And from the heavens he blesses us today.”  Indeed, it was Blessed Paul VI who foresaw the spread of the contraceptive mentality and its dire consequences on the countries of today that are suffering from the so-called demographic winter. Vast nations are disappearing from this planet because families are no longer having children.

          Individually and collectively, we should do everything possible to build good and strong families.  That is the only way we can overcome the threats of which Pope Francis spoke.  Good and strong families can be our contribution to the rest of the world, especially in the Asia Pacific region.  The Pope has high expectations  from us:    “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.  The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family.   So protect your families!  See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments.  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.  What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation!  So rise with Jesus and Mary, and set out on the path the Lord traces for each of you.”  Here, we have the most practical New Year’s resolution for the heads of the close to twenty million households in the Philippines today!  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.