When Pope Francis arrived late afternoon in the Philippines on January 15, church bells simultaneously rang and a predominantly Catholic Filipino people gave an enthusiastic welcome to the 78-year-old leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. It was a brilliant beginning for the pontiff’s pilgrimage to the Philippines—a time of jubilant hope for Filipino people and Catholics all over the world.
Arriving from Sri-Lanka, the Holy Father was all smiles as he waved to the sea of people who lined his route to the Apostolic Nunciature, the pope’s temporary home during this pilgrimage. Surely Pope Francis was humbled by such euphoric greetings. Wherever he went, people followed—rich and poor, young and old.
Encounter with Families
When I received an invitation to participate in the Pope’s “Encounter with Families” on the second day of his five-day pastoral visit, I was overjoyed. My first encounter with the Pope Francis was by special audience on October 2013 at the Vatican after giving a lecture at a Pontifical Council for the Laity conference.
Seeing the Holy Father on Tuesday, seated among 24,000 people inside a Philippine arena, I can say that the excitement coming from the sea of people around me was simply infectious. Everyone was on alert, awaiting Pope Francis’ vivid statements confirming the sacredness of human life, traditional marriage, and the gift of families.
Protect the Families from New Ideologies, Be Open to Life
In his address, Pope Francis called attention to the growing efforts to redefine the concept of marriage, relativism, the culture of the ephemeral, and a lack of openness to life. In his exhortation, he said:
You were given a role to recognize the dangers to our families and protect them from new ideologies. There is an ‘ideological colonization’ for which we have to be careful of those trying to destroy the family. Challenged by the redefinition of marriage and openness to life, as families we have to be very wise with fortitude to this colonization which will destroy the family.
Federico Lombardi, Papal spokesman, later said in a follow-up press conference that “ideological colonization” that the pope spoke of includes the redefinition of marriage.
Pope Francis, in referencing the goodness and truth proclaimed by predecessors Saint Pope Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, further stated:
In the moment of challenge of the growth of the population, we have the strength to defend openness to life. The Philippines need loving families to protect the beauty and truth of God’s plan as ‘the future passes through the family.’ So protect your families—it’s your country’s greatest treasure….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! Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats.
Unfortunately, the media later misquoted the Holy Father’s statements. Twisting the pope’s words, a popular television host and LGBT activist praised Pope Francis by profusely thanking him for his support and acceptance of those who identify themselves primarily by their sexual orientation. T-shirts were also manufactured with misquotes attributed to the pope stating: “No Race, No Religion—I Embrace Diversity.” In an effort to clear up misunderstandings, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines promptly warned the public of the purported lies.
The pope challenged participants to make time each day for prayer, for without it, we accomplish very little.
“It is in the family that the faithful learn how to pray. 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 needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them. When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world,” he said.
The Indispensable Role of the Family
When Pope Francis met with the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino Jr., at the Presidential Palace, he emphasized the fundamental role of the family. Saying that families are indispensable to society, it is the family’s mission to train children in “sound values, high ideals, and genuine concern for others.”
He continued: “We know how difficult it is for our democracies today to preserve and defend such basic human values as respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn and extending to that of the elderly and infirm. For this reason, families and local communities must be encouraged and assisted in their efforts to transmit to our young the values and the vision which can help bring about a culture of integrity – one which honors goodness, truthfulness, fidelity, and solidarity as the firm foundation and the moral glue which holds society together.”
Every Child is a Gift
At the final Mass attended by almost seven million people, Pope Francis stressed “the importance of protecting families, and those larger families which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family.”
He added, “This identity [traditional family] must be protected. When he came into the world, his very life was threatened by a corrupt king. Jesus himself needed to be protected. He had an earthly protector: Saint Joseph. He had an earthly family: the Holy Family of Nazareth. Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
The Holy Father underscored living according to God’s plan. The father of all lies, the devil, hides his snares in distractions, pleasures, and pasttimes. Focus on the things that matter, he reminded us, and do not forget that we are children of God: “For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. It was a frail child, in need of protection, who brought God’s goodness, mercy and justice into the world. He resisted the dishonesty and corruption which are the legacy of sin, and he triumphed over them by the power of his cross.”
The “Francis Effect”
Showered with love from the Filipino people, Pope Francis received a jubilant sendoff despite the effects of a raging tycoon. Consolation and strength were brought to the hundreds of thousands of raincoat-clad people who braved the cold, rain, and winds to say good-bye. His visit left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the Philippines.
I felt inspired by the indefatiguable Vicar of Christ on Earth and the mission that GOD has set for Human Life International. It is a great privilege that Saint John Paul II described as “the most important work on earth” – the defense and promotion of our faith, life, and family.