By BENJIE OLIVEROS
This is perhaps the only long holiday weekend when people are not leaving Manila for a vacation. Instead most, who are Catholics of course, have been busy preparing for the visit of Pope Francis. While Pope Francis is not the first Pope to visit the country – he is the third – his trip here assumes a profound significance because of the timing and his own declarations and position on issues.
Pope Francis assumed the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when both the world and the church are in a crisis.
The world is in the midst of a debilitating crisis, which last imploded in 2007-2008. While the apologists of the neoliberal, capitalist system blame a few “greedy” CEOs of large banks and financial investment houses, governments even bailed out these big banks and financial investment houses by using taxpayers’ money to return their losses. These apologists, in sync with governments and multilateral agencies such as the World Trade Organization and IMF-WB, have been clinging to every sign of recovery and have been declaring the end of the crisis even as there really has been no sign of long-term recovery because the crisis is inherent in the system itself.
Pope Francis, on the other hand, blames the greed of capitalism – the idolatry of wealth – for the world’s woes. He declared inequality, which has been at its worst level in history, as the root of social evil. And he called on the church to side with the poor.
The Philippines is not exempted from this crisis, contrary to what the Aquino government wants the people to believe. Poverty and unemployment is at its worst levels, with slight fluctuations when measured quarterly. Prices of basic commodities, services, and utilities are high and constantly increasing. And despite claims of growth, the Aquino government could not even raise wages. The Philippines did not experience the roller coaster ride of capitalist countries only because it has constantly been down.
A glaring evidence of this crisis is the prevalence of impunity in human rights violations. Human rights violations are but a manifestation of deep inequality, social injustice, and the desperate acts of the rich and powerful to protect their property from the multitude that are poor and without property.
This is why the Aquino government is trying everything to shield Pope Francis from the realities of the country. It has established a tight cordon sanitaire around the Pope, on the pretext of securing him. It has handpicked those who would meet with him, including the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.
Church officials, on the other hand, have gathered the faithful to meet with Pope Francis. It has organized gatherings of families and the youth. It has arranged masses at the University of Sto. Tomas and Luneta. All of these are meant for spiritual renewal and an affirmation of fidelity to the Catholic Church.
Progressive groups would try to bring to the Pope’s attention the realities of systemic greed and government neglect for the poor majority, worsening social inequities and poverty, absence of justice and prevalence of impunity in human rights violations, and the call for release of political prisoners.
Different voices would be reaching out to Pope Francis when he arrives in the country. Different groups would portray different pictures of the Philippine situation.