Image Credit: ABS-CBN News
In a rare event, a Filipino requested TN to publish his thoughts on how Pope Francis made him respect the Catholic Church again. He admitted being a born Catholic but has not been attending mass for decades. In fact, he said he has lost faith in any religion. Nevertheless, he said he still believe in God and prays to Him.
First of all, he requested TN not to reveal his real identity. Instead, he wished to be named “Noel.” He said he was at Quirino Avenue in Manila and among the tens of thousands who flocked to see Pope Francis live in person when he arrived in the Philippines on Thursday, January 15, 2015.
Here is Noel’s full email to TN:
Dear TN staff,
For some reasons, I came across to our site and noticed that you have published an open letter earlier. This is why I had the guts to send you an email. You see, I haven’t sleep yet since yesterday after I saw Pope Francis with my own eyes last night. I felt I have something to do before I can go to sleep.
I know this is weird being a senior citizen, but I guess this is the only way that can have a good sleep again. I am a retired accountant from Laguna and went to Manila yesterday but not to see Pope Francis. In fact, I hate the fact that his arrival coincided with my first visit to my only son in fourteen years.
I’m living with my second wife, Sonia but we are not married. I tried attending other Christian groups but the “magic” was not there. I have an Internet connection at home so somehow, I have read some news about Pope Francis. But because I have lost faith in the Catholic Church, I care less about him.
When I was young, my parents and I used to go to a Catholic church every Sunday along with my two other siblings. In fact, we were among those who saw Pope Paul VI in person when he visited the Philippines in 1970. Who wouldn’t be excited to be part of the country’s first ever papal visit?
But as I was growing older, I learned about the alleged abuse of some Catholic priests. I even had a very bad nightmare with one of them. Although it was not a physical abuse, I supposed it was even more than that. Our house got burned and our parish priest allowed us to stay in the church temporarily.
One time, I overheard him telling to his “staff” to keep an eye on us. I suppose there was no malice intended. But on our second day, I was very shocked when I heard him cursing to my parents. He accused my 12-year old brother of stealing donations to the church, and never allowed us to explain.
From then on, our family never went to any Catholic church. When my parents passed away, they were buried without being blessed by a priest. As I grow older, my disrespect for Catholic belief got worst. I started being vocal about it, and openly criticized their practices especially using images and statues.
I even had a fist fight with a co-worker during a debate when Pope John Paul II made his second visit in the Philippines for the World Youth Day in January 1995. In short, I totally had no respect in Christianity, as well to other religions. For me, religion is only a dirty business and isolating oneself from the others.
But still, I remained believing that there is a God; although it does not necessarily be the Father of Jesus Christ. I pray to Him and thanked Him just like any God believer. But to say that I will still listen to any religious leader or a member of a group, I promised to myself that I will not be “fooled” again.
I can’t say that I grow old being a good or bad person. But what I hate most is when someone is convincing me that he is right and I’m wrong. This attitude led me to decide to literally throw my teenage son out of the house. We always argue because he wanted to be a musician, ala Ely Buendia.
And because he was my only child that time, my first wife followed our son until we decided to be on a separate ways. Being as a stubborn as I am, I never communicated with them for years. But thanks to Facebook and Sonia, I saw his photos, including his wife and their two children, Darrel and Dinky.
I was stunned how my son became as successful as he is now. He has now a huge store selling guitars and other kinds of musical instruments. I learned that he first met his wife while he was performing with a band in Quezon Avenue. He still performs sometimes, while managing their shop with his wife.
He turned 33 yesterday, but I’m not sure if he knew that I was planning to visit him. I’m not even sure how he will react once he sees me. So instead of going straight to his home in Malate, I followed the crowd as they go to see Pope Francis. Then, an unexpected encounter happened.
I had a chance to meet a group of youth – belonging to different religious groups. Three of them are Catholics, one is a Protestant, another is a Jehovah’s Witness, and the oldest among the group is a Muslim. I can’t help but to ask them why they are friends and why they decided to see Pope Francis.
“And why not? The world knows his humility and being a very simple man despite his status. We have been good friends for years but we never insult each other’s belief. We are not here because of our religion or to mock him. We are here to see the man who respects us.” The Muslim guy told me.
My knees started to tremble, but not because I was standing for more than five hours. My body felt cold not because of the strong wind. I felt a slap on my face not because someone hit me. On that very moment, I began asking myself, “When was the last time I show respect to someone different from me?”
The group then went closer to the road as Pope Francis’ pope mobile approaches to where we are. I was a little bit pushed to the front but was never harmed. I heard people screaming, “I love you, Pope Francis” although many of them are preparing their gadgets to take photos of him.
We were on the right side of the street, but he faced to the left while waving his hand to the people. Nevertheless, the group I met gave “high-fives” to each other and hugged each other tightly. I heard some people around me crying in joy despite the fact that they did not see the face of Pope Francis.
I can’t remember where I stayed last night. This morning, I found myself inside an Internet shop browsing news reports about Pope Francis. I watched his first-ever interview while he was in Brazil. I really hope you can share it to your readers, so they will know him more as an ordinary person.
As I read many reports about him, I realized that Pope Francis wants to live like an ordinary human. But to many of us, he seems extraordinary. He don’t want a bullet-proof car because he wants to hear the people. He brings his own bag, pays his hotel bills, shows respect to gays and lesbians, and has made other humble acts.
At my age, it’s only now that I have a full understanding of the word “respect.” It’s about listening to others without being judgmental. It’s about accepting that people have different beliefs but are not necessarily bad. Once you respect someone, you stop objecting his ideas in a violent way.
My close encounter with the pope probably took only two seconds, but it changed my life. I may not be a Catholic again. But one thing is for sure; my respect for the Catholic Church is back and to other religions as well. In fact, we watched Pope Francis on TV in his mass at the Manila Cathedral.
By the way, I wrote this message while I’m on my son’s house. I bravely knocked on his door and prepared myself for everything. When he opened it, tears fell in our eyes. The only words I heard from him is, “I love you very much, Pa!” He introduced me to his wife, and boy! My grandchildren are taller than I am!
With much respect,
PS. Please allow me to include some excerpts of Pope Francis’ reply to an interview while he was boarding the plane from Sri Lanka to the Philippines.
“Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely…You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith.”
“If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path; he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending.”
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