Manila, Philippines, Jan 18, 2015 / 10:04 am
A priest currently stationed in the Philippine diocese of Cebu said that not only is Pope Francis' visit an opportunity to vamp-up evangelization efforts, but also fuels the local church's push to help the poor.
"Part of the pastoral thrust of the Church in the Philippines in 2015 is that it is Year for the Poor," Father Justin of the Brothers of Saint John told CNA Jan. 15.
So during the visit, he said, "especially with a Pope as simple as Pope Francis (who is) also reaching out to the victims of typhoon Haiyan, it is important for us to understand that the heart of the Gospel is really mercy and compassion."
Fr. Justin is the novice master for his community in Cebu, which was established in 1994. Originally from Hong Kong, he has been a part of his congregation for 15 years, and has been a priest for five years.
The Pope's Jan. 15-19 trip, which holds the theme "Mercy and Compassion," was not planned to coincide with the Philippine Church's Year for the Poor, he noted.
Referring to the timing of Pope Francis' visit as "very providential," the priest said that it is especially so in light of the strong emphasis the pontiff places on the poor and marginalized.
"If somebody says he loves God but hates his brother, if we see somebody who is dying of hunger and do nothing about it, then we are liars," Fr. Justin observed, referring to how St. John speaks about this in his first letter.
When we love our neighbors and have an attitude of solidarity that recognizes each person as a child of God, regardless of whether they share the same beliefs or agree with our opinions, then our hearts become open, he said.
And if we are open both to "the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" as well as to the message of the Gospel, then we are in a better position to hear the voice of God and understand what he is asking, the priest said.
He also referred to how the papal visit coincides with the Year for Consecrated Life declared by Pope Francis last year, which began in November.
As a religious, seeing the Pope during the year dedicated to consecrated life makes the pontiff's visit even more important for him, the priest said.
"We need encouragement so much, but at the same time (also) certain corrections that the Holy Father likes to give to us," Fr. Justin said, and referred to how the Pope often tells consecrated persons that the Gospel can't be "just words and slogans or dry doctrines, (but) we have to live it in the flesh."
Amid the beauty of Catholic tradition in the Philippines, which holds a high respect for faith, devotion and all things sacred, there is still the challenge of evangelizing and preaching the Gospel to those for whom it has become routine, the priest noted.
In his first Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis refers to how "we can sometimes have a kind of pessimism or depression about ourselves" as Christians by looking to the scandals in the Church or pointing to all the mistakes priests make and telling them they aren't doing enough, he said.
We don't need to be this way, Fr. Justin explained, because "we have Jesus Christ in our hearts."
"Perhaps we may not be great televangelists, but by our little steps, by our acts of charity, our concern for others (and) simply seeking to learn our faith well we (will) set a good example, and we pray that it will be infectious," he continued.
Fr. Justin referred to how thousands of others have come to Manila to participate in the events of the papal trip, and expressed his hope that his novices and fellow brothers would be able get into the feeling of the event, and celebrate together as a universal Church.
By celebrating with the Pope as a universal Church, "we can continue our path of holiness with hope and with joy," the priest observed, saying that his greatest hope for the trip is that "we become holy."