Published on January 23, 2018.
At the “Catholic media in challenging times” forum in San Carlos Seminary in Makati City on Friday, the veteran journalist and former professor Crispin Maslog—he wryly introduced himself as a “centennial,” not a millennial—rose during the open forum not to ask a question but to offer a comment. “I would like to share with you an answer,” he said. He pointed to the theme of the forum blazoned on the backdrop, read it out loud, and said: “I think our challenge is President Duterte.”
He cut to the quick. That is in fact the real reason why we live in challenging times, and why Catholic media organizations—in common with other media and with other sectors of society—are facing a challenge. The election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte inaugurated a parallel era of anxiety in the Philippines; behind the record high survey ratings of the President are consistent confessions of fear, mistrust, uncertainty. The same surveys that show majority satisfaction or trust ratings for the President and approval for his signature antidrugs campaign show that almost three-fourths of voting-age Filipinos fear they or someone they know will be the next casualty in the so-called war on drugs. A far greater majority, over 90 percent, say keeping suspected drug dealers or users alive is important. Less than one-tenth say they trust the police when the police allege that suspects were killed because they fought back. Continue reading
Published on November 17, 2015.
ROOTING THROUGH my notes while doing research on the first Jesuit pope, I realized I had not yet shared the following remarks I made at a Province Forum of the Philippine Jesuits last year. Perhaps they may still be of some use:
Let me start from where I work: Journalism needs more Jesuits. I do not mean the profession needs more Jesuit columnists like Fr. Joaquin Bernas or Jesuit bloggers like Fr. Joel Tabora or Jesuit entrepreneurial advise-dispensers like Fr. Javy Alpasa. Or at least I do not mean that necessarily; it is also true that we in the media can always do with more Jesuit-produced content. The rotating column God’s Word Today is yet another good example; it has the advantage of being written by Fr. Jett Villarin and Fr. Manoling Francisco, among others. It only suffers from the disadvantage of appearing in the wrong newspaper!
What I really mean is that journalism needs more Jesuits as subject experts.
Published on November 3, 2015.
I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.
In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.
Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) Continue reading
Column No. 350, published on June 23, 2015.
For a good many of us, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be) will be the most subversive text we will read all year, or indeed for many years. The extraordinary eco-encyclical from Pope Francis contains explosive truths, not about the science of climate change, but about the persistence of poverty, the excesses of a market economy, the fetish for technology and the technocratic solution, the consequences of middle-class aspirations, the failings of the media, even the role of the human in a “rapidifying” world.
“Laudato Si” offers the kind of radical reading that subverts our assumptions, challenges our deepest convictions, makes us see anew. The lengthy document attempts to give a truly global treatment of the ecological catastrophe we all face; some or many of the notes the Pope strikes will be familiar to us, but taken together, the whole acquires a resonance unheard since “Gaudium et Spes” signaled the reconciliation between the Church and the modern world. Continue reading
Published on March 17, 2015.
The papal visit last January was a forceful reminder that populism is not necessarily a bad thing. Too often identified with the masa politics of Joseph Estrada and other celebrities-turned-politicians, populism in the Philippines was usually understood and practiced as nothing more than an appeal to the basest motive, the lowest common denominator. (Mea culpa.)
In Pope Francis’ embrace of popular piety, animated by his practice of the so-called theology of the people, we find the positive meaning of populism. In “Evangelii Gaudium,” referencing the pope of his formative years in the priesthood, Francis wrote: “Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the ‘Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi,’ Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’ and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’”
Popular piety, then, is founded on a culture of respect for the common life (what a British critic, in an entirely different context, referred to as the ordinary universe). Populism at its heart is not the angry mob or the paid crowd, but the community of the poor and the simple. The emotion that pumps through that heart is not vengeance or self-interest, but “generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism.”
With Mayor Junjun Binay’s blatant appeal to his constituents to protect him from the agents of the government he himself serves, we find the complete opposite. I do not discount the possibility that many of those who ran to City Hall to put up a human barricade against Department of Interior and Local Government officials seeking to serve the suspension order of the Ombudsman did so out of genuine conviction; they were perfectly within their rights. But the statements emanating from Binay and his top allies are another thing altogether. In them we find the irresponsibility of reckless leaders who do not have their supporters’ own wellbeing at heart. Continue reading
Published on January 27, 2015.
To Church-watchers, the pivotal moment of Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the Philippines may have been his unscripted remarks at the Meeting with Families, on Jan. 16, at the Mall of Asia Arena. When he invoked Pope Paul VI (by name) and his predecessor’s controversial encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (by implication), it was global news—but it was news for the wrong reasons.
In particular, it was the following passage (about 140 words in all) that led many observers or commentators to speak of the Pope’s “conservative” turn, or to cite it as confirmation that the first pope named after the saint of Assisi was not as “liberal” as he was reputed to be. Continue reading
Published on January 20, 2015.
At the final press briefing Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, held with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the long-serving Vatican spokesman attempted “a synthesis of the trip”—Pope Francis’ first visit to the Philippines, his second to Asia, and his seventh outside Italy since his election in March 2013. The substance of the Pope’s remarks was the second element of Lombardi’s synthesis.
He noted “the coherence of the message of the Pope: integrity, corruption, scandalous inequality, poverty.” Especially that last point: “The poor at the center of the Gospel.”
This was an echo of Francis’ own summary of his message to the Filipino faithful, which he explained in the news conference on the flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Manila. (Hats off to Pia Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan, who if I’m not mistaken became the first Filipino journalist to ask Pope Francis a direct question.)
“The central message of this trip will be the poor, the poor who want to carry on; the poor who suffered from Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ and who are still suffering the consequences; the poor who have faith and hope. The people of God, the poor, even the exploited poor, those who suffer many injustices, material, spiritual and existential. I’ll think of them when I’m in the Philippines.” Continue reading
Published on January 13, 2015.
It is a safe bet that many Filipinos want the upcoming papal visit to be a politician-free zone. Even the politicians themselves are wary, all too aware that just being seen with Pope Francis as he visits the Philippines could be mistaken for that new state of disgrace we can call “epal-ness” or, worse, as an abuse of political privilege. With the exception of the Pope’s courtesy call in Malacañang, there is good reason to keep the apostolic visit free of politics—but not necessarily of politicians.
I would wager that Pope Francis himself, while acutely conscious of the corruption, the venality, the self-seeking and self-perpetuating culture of politics, would welcome politicians of all shades of conviction in his audiences. He has the same high regard for the calling of politics that the pope of his formative years in the priesthood, the intellectual diplomat Paul VI, expressed often and emphatically.
In a characteristically candid interview with veteran Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli in December 2013, he spoke about the relationship between the Church and politics. Continue reading
Published on January 6, 2015.
The most consequential papal journey of the year will not be to Sri Lanka or even to the Philippines next week, although Pope Francis’ second visit to Asia is important indeed. It will be in September, to the new center of gravity of Catholic conservatism: the United States.
Apart from its intrinsic importance, then, the Pope’s second-longest journey outside Italy to canonize the Apostle to Sri Lanka Blessed Joseph Vaz and to condole with the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in the Philippines can also be understood as a series of way stations en route to a historic encounter in Pittsburgh. (His longest journey, longer by a few hours, was the eight-day swing to Brazil in 2013.)
I do not wish to minimize the significance to the fourth papal visit to the Philippines. I understand that the Pope wanted to visit the country as early as late 2013, or just several months after his election—after all, it hosts the largest Catholic population in the world’s most populous continent and, despite the parochialism of much religion news in the country, plays a pivotal role in Asia in the new evangelization.
Unlike the visit to Seoul (his first to Asia, in August last year) and the one to Colombo that’s coming up in a few days, there is no beatification or canonization ceremony to perform in the Philippine visit. Unlike his visit to Rio de Janeiro in July 2013 or the one to Istanbul last November, there is no World Youth Day to grace or Joint Declaration to announce in the Philippines. He is, simply, a pastor visiting his people. Continue reading
Published on December 23, 2014.
I have had the privilege of writing on Pope Francis for different media in preparation for next month’s pastoral visit. Writing has helped turn anticipation into active waiting—very like Advent. Like many, I am drawn to the Pope’s emphasis on mercy and compassion; but I am also magnetized by his candor, his demonstrated capacity for frank talk.
On Oct. 26, for instance, I wrote a “Daily Reflection” for INQUIRER.net, on what Pope Francis considers Christ’s “most powerful message.”
“‘First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching.’
“We can understand Pope Francis’ repeated emphasis on mercy as an attempt to restore a sense of proportion to Catholic discourse. In one of his very first homilies as pope, he introduces the theme in a memorable way.
“‘I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think—and I say it with humility—that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.’ Continue reading
Published on November 11, 2014.
Shortly after President Aquino marked his 100th day in office, in 2010, I wrote a column attempting an analysis of the new commander in chief’s self-evidently well-defined sense of limits. The unfortunate controversy over his decision to omit Tacloban City from his packed schedule commemorating the first anniversary of “Yolanda” over the weekend reminded me of that attempt; perhaps (if you will allow me) it bears a second look. Continue reading
Published on October 28th, 2014.
I can understand the struggle-for-reform narrative that allows commentators to call the outcome of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Pastoral Challenges to the Family a setback—but I doubt whether Pope Francis sees it that way. The narrative arc is clear, for example, in James Politi’s dispatch from Rome dated Oct. 26: “[I]t is hard not to see the turn of events in the Vatican this month as a setback for a Pope who has energized the Catholic world with his quest to make the religion more accessible and modern.”
It is even more hard to see the turn of events as going according to the Pope’s plan, but I will attempt to show, if not exactly that, then at least the nearest thing: That the Pope could not have seen it as a setback, and himself as “losing the latest battle.” (Politi again.) Continue reading
Published on October 14, 2014.
Reading various interviews that Pope Francis has granted since at least 2009 (when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires), I have realized that behind the pastor with the common touch is a priest of deep culture and massive learning. Three sets of interviews, in particular, reveal a man with a sure sense of self and a certain, expressive, style.
Beyond his celebrated quotes—“pray for me,” “the church of mercy,” “the culture of encounter” and perhaps most famously “who am I to judge?”—he has given us in these three interviews a trove of precisely calibrated statements, that either force us to reconsider something familiar or see something altogether, and wholly, new. Continue reading
Published on March 18, 2014.
I liked the way it was phrased: Pope Francis has “an older son problem.” That seemed to me to be exactly right: The context was both biblical and within the framework of a famous parable of mercy. Hearing eminent Vaticanista John Allen Jr. say it out loud was satisfying indeed. The definition of the problem itself hinted at the solution. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I had the chance to hear Allen deliver his lecture at the 50th anniversary rites of the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay City last Wednesday, and see him engage in conversation with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in Quezon City the following day, at a fund-raising dinner.
Allen has been a constant reference in my Newsstand blog; he is the primary English-language source for Vatican news, and his reporting on the last days of John Paul II, the remarkable papacy of Benedict XVI and Francis’ turn on history’s stage has been marked by deep understanding of both the Vatican as a beat and Catholicism as a creed, and (not a small thing) by boundless energy. Continue reading
Published on December 24, 2013.
Before you listen to tonight’s Christmas Eve homily, you may want to prepare for the ordeal with the following joke. “We know… that both [the faithful] and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!”
Ah, you might say: That’s exactly how I feel. Or perhaps: I didn’t realize the priests themselves dreaded the sermon. But the passage’s puckish note almost gives the author away. In a year of papal surprises, Pope Francis wrote an extraordinary document, classified as an apostolic exhortation in the Vatican’s elaborate schema, that enjoins all Catholics to rediscover and share the “joy of the Gospel”—and was itself proof of that joy, rediscovered and shared.
Much of the coverage I’ve seen or read on the Pope’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” however, focuses on the startling denunciations of consumerist capitalist culture to be found in it. One of the most quoted passages is a stinging rhetorical question: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” (I am humbled that Francis’ first example of what he calls “an economy of exclusion” involves the use, or misuse, of journalistic judgment.) Continue reading
Excerpts from a pastor’s journal. Published on July 9, 2013.
“I think it is now three years since I last used a typewriter,” Pope John XXIII began a letter to his brother. “I used to enjoy typing so much and if today I have decided to begin again, using a machine that is new and all my own, it is in order to tell you that I know I am growing old…” He had just turned 80.
Shortly after he died, about a year and a half since sitting at that typewriter, his spiritual notebooks and some of his letters and special prayers were published as “Journal of a Soul.” A few years later, I found my father’s copy of the book; I have been reading it, on and off, ever since.
The third edition of the March 14, 2013 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer–which went to press past three in the morning.