Pope Francis, the Philippines, and Living Catholic Social Thought

By: Kim Buñag

January 26, 2015

Why Catholic Social Thought Matters for the Future of Global Development

It has been six days since the Pope left Manila and we are still reeling from the experience. People are still uploading 5-second-videos of the Pope passing them by, or blogging their reflections on the experience. It has been dubbed as a "National five-day retreat," with the government suspending classes and work in the capital so people could attend the papal activities. With the chanting of "We love you Pope Francis" still fresh in our minds, we Filipinos are still on a "Pope high." 

And why not? The image of the Pope in a yellow raincoat saying Mass on a side chapel in Tacloban, with the rain pouring in, touched the lives of the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. People were visibly crying as the Pope could only offer his presence and Jesus' promise, "He does not let us down." Or during the encounter with the youth, he set aside his prepared homily in order to hug a girl who couldn't finish her speech on why children suffer, and he then talked about the need for Catholics to cry. Or perhaps, the last image of him carrying his own bag as he boarded the plane. The simplicity, the sincerity, the love for the poor of Christ, was what endeared Pope Francis to the Filipinos. 

Today we talk of Catholic social thought and its impact on global development. This Pope has only produced two official Church documents to date, Lumen Fidei and Evangelii Gaudium. But more than his writings, what makes people excited about the Church is the person of Pope Francis, his surprising gestures, his candid take on issues, his living out of his convictions for the poor. In simple parishes and chapels in the Philippines, people have not heard the papal encyclicals and are not familiar with the Catholic social doctrine. Ironically, while it seeks to serve them, they cannot understand it. But they know Pope Francis, and they know his love for the poor and the peripheries.

Perhaps Pope Francis is renewing the way the Church engages the world, especially the simple people. True, Catholic social thought must be enriched, deepened, and proclaimed to respond to growing global issues of development. But it will only matter, especially to the poor, if it is communicated in a lived sense. We will be talking about big issues for the next months, on health, climate change, economics, and development. But a big contribution of the Church is not just in formulating thought, but in the pastoral incarnation of these lofty ideas to serve real people. Let Christ, through the Pope, be with us in this conversation. 

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