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Pope, at Mass with millions, tells Filipinos to protect the family

Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle

Friends in Christ: Pope Francis embraces Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, as the pontiff celebrates Mass at Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines, yesterday (January 18).
Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

POPE Francis told a crowd of an estimated six million gathered in a Manila park to protect the family “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 Pope’s homily at yesterday’s (January 18) Mass also reprised several other themes he had sounded during the four-day visit, including environmental problems, poverty and corruption.

Despite continuous rain, the congregation in Rizal Park began to assemble the night before the afternoon celebration. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila cancelled other Masses throughout the archdiocese to enhance turnout. The crowd was so dense in spots that people passed hosts to fellow worshippers unable to reach priests distributing Communion.

The government estimated the total crowd size at six million-seven million people. According to the Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi that would be the largest number of people ever to gather to see a pope. A Mass with St John Paul II in the same place 20 years earlier is believed to have drawn four million-five million people, often described as the largest live crowd in history.

The Mass was celebrated on Santo Nino Day, or the feast of the Holy Child Jesus, one of the most popular feast days in the Philippines. Many of those who walked great distances down closed roads to get to Rizal Park held statues of Santo Nino.

For his final scheduled public talk in the country, Pope Francis stuck to his prepared English text and did not improvise in Spanish, as he had done at several emotional points during the visit. Yet his voice rose with emphasis during the passage about protecting the family.

Those words echoed his warning, during a January 16 meeting with Filipino families, against “ideological colonisation that tries to destroy the family” through such practices as same-sex marriage and contraception.

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

The Pope praised the Philippines, whose population is more than 80 per cent Catholic, as the “foremost Catholic country in Asia”, and said its people, millions of whom worked abroad, were “called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia”.

Yet he warned the developing nation, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, against temptations of materialism, saying the devil “hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern, like everyone else. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink.”

Pope Francis, who had urged a group of young people earlier in the day to address the challenge of climate change through dedication to the environment, told Mass-goers human sinfulness had “disfigured (the) natural beauty” of creation.

Other consequences of sin, the Pope said, were “social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption”, problems he had emphasised in his January 16 speech at Manila’s presidential palace.

The Pope spoke about “ideological colonisation that tries to destroy the family” at a meeting of families on January 16 at the Mall of Asia Arena, which was filled to its capacity of 20,000 people.

The arena reverberated with people crying out “We love you Lolo Kiko” (Grandpa Kiko, the Filipino nickname for Francisco) as the Pope walked the red carpet, stopping to touch the faithful and bless families who were among those representing the 86 dioceses of the country.

The Pope said “God calls upon us to recognise the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm”.

First among these dangers, Pope Francis said, was what he called an “ideological colonisation that tries to destroy the family”.

“It is not born of the dream that we have with God from prayer, or from the mission that God gives us; it comes from outside, and that’s why I say it is colonisation,” the Pope said, adding that it referred to “materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality”.

Pope Francis went on to say that the “family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life”.

The Pope praised Blessed Paul VI for his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, which affirmed Catholic moral teaching against contraception, though he noted that it also instructed confessors to show “compassion in particular cases” of penitents who had failed to follow the teaching.

Blessed Paul “saw the threat of the destruction of the family by depriving it of children. Paul VI was courageous, he was a good pastor, and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching.”

In 2012, the Philippine government passed a “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act”, providing for government funding of contraception.

Discussing the term “ideological colonisation” with reporters after the event, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila noted that African bishops had told him foreign aid to their countries was sometimes offered on the condition that they accepted “alien” views of sexuality and marriage.

At the arena, the Argentine-born pope invoked the rhetoric of anti-imperialist revolution to encourage his Asian listeners: “Just as our peoples arrived at the maturity to say no in the period of colonisation, we families have to be very wise and strong, with the fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonisation that could destroy the family.”

Pope Francis called on Catholic families to be “sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life, from conception to natural death”.

The Pope also urged the audience to care for the needy, particularly orphans and the elderly, offering as inspiration a home for rescued street children he had visited earlier the same day.


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