Thursday, January 22, 2015

5 Basic things I learned from the Pope's visit

(This article originally appeared in Buhay Pinoy of the Philippine Online Chronicles on January 22, 2015 entitled Thoughts on Pope Francis by a social media desaparecido.)

Like many Filipinos, I have been bitten by the Pope Francis bug, caught the pope fever and got hooked to the papal visit euphoria. There was just one thing I wasn’t able to do during the 5-day visit of the Pope last January 15-19, 2015. I didn’t get carried away by social media. You see, I deleted my Facebook account around 3 months ago. (Read Confessions of a Facebook junkie.) I have a Google+ account where I only have a handful of friends in my circles but I didn’t camp in that one. What I’ve learned about the Pope I’ve learned the old-fashioned way: from watching television.

I didn’t watch much the tv coverage of the networks because I wanted to form my own thoughts and my own judgments so I watched the papal coverage of our cable provider which was devoid of commentaries. We live in Mindanao and we did not go to Manila or Tacloban to see the Pope personally but we did glean a lot of things from the papal visit. One of my favorite books is “All I need to know I learned from kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. This is my version of all I need to know about faith in action I learned from Pope Francis.

I feel comfortable at the thought that my ideas are not influenced by comments of other people or views from social media. I feel free for not being tied to hastags or bound by pressures to comment on discussions in forums which I used to do when I was active on Facebook. I feel that whatever thoughts I have are borne out of a clear head and not out of a social media induced bandwagon mentality.

So, what have I learned from the papal visit from my own quiet little world down south? Here are my 5 basic insights.

1. Simplicity, honesty and sincerity attract more

In a country beset by doubts and eroding credibility of public officials, Pope Francis was a whiff of fresh air. At first, I was truly amazed at the turnout of well wishers when he arrived last January 15, 2015. His smile was disarming despite a hectic and tiring day from his trip in Sri Lanka. It was when he started talking during the next days that I got hooked to him.

I will not elaborate anymore on his messages as the major dailies and internet sites have the full texts of his homilies and speeches. But I was struck when he ditched his prepared speeches and spoke in Spanish, his mother tongue, to be able to express his thoughts better. I noticed the change in his countenance and his gestures as he eloquently and animatedly made use of everything in his being from facial expressions to hand gestures just so he could get his message across. For a moment there, I felt like learning Spanish all over again. (Read: Reaction of a hispanohablante to Pope Francis speaking in Spanish)

Somehow I wished some of our priests would cease from speaking English during homilies especially when it’s obvious they have a hard time groping for the right words to say and speak in the language they are most comfortable in, their mother tongue. Of course, the message is also another thing. They should take it from Pope Francis. Keep the message short and simple but touching and profound. They’ll attract more parishioners that way.

2. Humility and courtesy regardless of rank

During the four times that Pope Francis spoke in Spanish to his audience, he always asked permission to do so. “May I?” He always admitted his inadequacy in speaking English. And he never failed to appreciate his interpreter, Msgr. Gerard Miles, for being a good one.

He also never failed to say “Thank you” even at the time when the opening line to his homily was actually from a passage in the bible spoken by Jesus and not his own question of “Do you love me?” It is true though that a lot of Filipinos, believers or not, have loved him and appreciated him since Day 1.

These are 2 basic courtesies that show a person’s humility which we, adults, should teach children. These show proper breeding and strength of character regardless of who a person becomes. Remember the time when we were kids ourselves when our parents and teachers would tell us to say “May I go out?” and “Thank you”? These are some things that somehow counter the rudeness of comments we sometimes read in social media.

3. Being there for someone

It is always comforting to know that people care when one loses a loved one. True, it’s easy to condole through social media. The Pope could have tweeted his condolences to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda or just sent a formal letter to the President which he did. It would have been enough that Vatican has donated millions for that Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, Leyte. But the Pope chose to personally visit the victims of Yolanda and said he wanted to come as soon as he heard of the devastation it created.

Such a gesture speaks much of a compassionate heart. No wonder he endeared himself to the hearts of Filipinos especially the Taclobanons since we are a people who are easily touched by gestures of caring and empathy. We can only hope that this kind of compassion has rubbed off on our public servants and moved them into action for the good of our people. I hope he did come in the midst of the social media war that erupted and somehow divided the nation that time.

4. Selfie vs. big picture

I am dumbfounded at the millions of people who lined the streets and attended the masses after waiting for forever for the Pope only to get a millisecond glimpse of him. Not a few were reported to have cried as soon as they saw the Pope pass by. Not a few were elated and felt as if the Pope has looked at them or waved at them personally. And as seen on tv, not a few have held their gadgets high to get photos or videos of the Pope.

I hope the photos or videos were for memories and not simply for posting in social media just so people could boast that they were actually at a certain spot where the Pope passed by. I hope also that the experience of such people will not just be a selfie experience but will transcend to a bigger picture. We who have seen the tv coverage could see where the Pope and his party were going and were able to listen comfortably to his messages. I wonder how many of those who saw the Pope would try to read or listen to his messages when they find the time? Or would they rather post their photos in social media and be content with being #blessedbythePope?

Whether we got a selfie or saw a big picture on television, I hope the messages of the Pope will spring from inspiration from him to action on our parts and make us truly think well, feel well and do well in our Catholic or Christian faiths. If each person who has been touched by the Pope could touch another person and if each person could be kind to at least one more and those who have been touched and been shown kindness could pass that on, what a beautiful ripple effect of goodness, kindness and faith would be created!

5. A sense of humor is energy-giving

Aside from the energy the Pope gets in prayer every day, it helps that he also has a huge sense of humor. According to Wikihow, “Having a sense of humor is one of the greatest assets a person can have. Not only will you be prone to spontaneous laughter and mirth, it will help lower your stress levels, interact more easily with others, and even diffuse difficult situations. What’s not often understood is that you don’t have to be funny to have a sense of humor—just the ability to see the lighter side of things.

Pope Francis definitely sees the lighter side of things even if his position requires one to be seriously level-headed. That is apparent in his charming smile which he never got tired of flashing in the same way he never got tired of standing in those popemobiles. Perhaps God is telling us through Pope Francis that He actually has a great sense of humor. I also think letting the Pope experience Typhoon Amang is His funny way of telling Pope Francis, “Okay, dear Servant of Servants, let’s see how real that mercy and compassion of yours is for these typhoon victims.”

I just don’t know if God was also kidding the officials on that plane that skidded off Tacloban airport. I hope they have enough sense of humor to counter the sense of rumor in social media sparked by that incident.

Simplicity. Honesty. Sincerity. Humility. Courtesy. Presence. Seeing the Big Picture. Sense of Humor. Small words but big on things to do for us all who have been touched by the Pope during his visit regardless of where or how we have “encountered” him.

Long after the hashtags are gone, long after the euphoria has died down, long after the effects of the Pope Francis bug have worn off, and long after the dust of popemania has settled, may we still find faith in each of our hearts, Catholics, Christians, and Filipinos regardless of religion or beliefs, regardless of whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest or simply one like me, a social media desaparecido.

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