‘Bless the Philippines’: Pope prays for peace, integrity, justice

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - After his rapturous reception in Asia’s bastion of the Catholic faith, Pope Francis prayed for blessings for the Philippines yesterday and asked Filipinos to serve as missionaries of the Gospel in the region and the world.

“Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of faith in Asia,” the pontiff said in his homily in a mass held at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, in which he also bade the nation goodbye.

Quoting a verse from the Bible, he said that being the “foremost Catholic country in Asia” is in “itself a special gift of God, a blessing” for the country.

“May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Philippines and to sustain the Christians of this great nation in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world,” the pope said.

He cited Ephesians 1:3, which states: “The apostle tells us that because God chose us, we have been richly blessed. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heaven.”

The 78-year-old pontiff asked Filipinos to persevere not to be lured by the devil who “distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes.”

“Often, he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern like everyone else. He distracts. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink; we turn in on ourselves,” he said.

He also cautioned that people forget to remain focused on the “things that really matter.”

“We forget to remain, at heart, children of God. For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. That is why the message of the Santo Niño is so important. He speaks powerfully to all of us. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be as God’s family,” he said.

Pope Francis as well urged Filipino Catholics to protect their young from sin and vice so they can become missionaries of faith.

“We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected,” the pope said in his homily. “And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets.”

The pope noted it was a “special joy” for him to celebrate the mass yesterday, which coincides with the Feast of Sto. Niño, with the Filipino people.

He said the image of the Holy Child had “accompanied the spread of the Gospel in this country from the beginning,” noting that the Sto. Niño “reminds us of our call to spread the reign of Christ throughout the world.”

At the end of his homily, Pope Francis urged Filipinos to be reminded of Jesus “who came among us as a child.”

“May he enable all the beloved people of this country to work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace… Please don’t forget to pray for me! God bless you all!” he added.

Challenge accepted; gratitude expressed

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas has accepted the pope’s challenge for the Filipinos to be messengers of faith.

“Holy Father, when you give us the blessing of light, we promise we will be your light, we will be the light of Jesus for Asia and in the world. We will light the world with mercy and compassion, the mercy and compassion of Jesus. We will light the world with the joy of the gospel,” Villegas said in his words of gratitude at the end of the mass.

He also thanked the pope for braving Tropical Storm Amang as he visited and consoled the survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban and Palo in Leyte last Saturday and as he celebrated the mass in Luneta yesterday.

Villegas added that the pope’s visit in Leyte uplifted the spirits of Yolanda survivors.

This was echoed by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, who gave assurances that Filipinos are now more willing to follow the pontiff.

“Every Filipino wants to go with you – not to Rome – but to the peripheries, to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, sciences, culture, education, and social communications. We will go to these worlds to bring the light of Jesus, Jesus who is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the Church,” Tagle added.

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