Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Pope Effect in Baguio

SADLY, the Pope Effect in Baguio manifested as early as Thursday morning. The central business district was already clogged that time. Queues at the Ketchup Community were long and winding. Marcos Highway experienced heavy traffic similar to the last Christmas holidays. Funny but most of the traffic was at the forgotten fork at Marcos Highway leading to the Baguio Dairy Farm. Yes, it is another reprise of La Presa fever. As for Kennon Road, here’s the text we got: Nakakaasar dito sa Kennon Road, bro. Ang daming sasakyan ng taga-lowlands na either tumirik dito or nakatambay lang along the highway na nagse-selfie, sobrang grabe tuloy ang traffic jam all the way to BGH.”
Because of the three-day “holy days” imposed in Manila because of the visit of Pope Francis, a huge chunk of the populace again went up to Baguio. As we said earlier, the reasons were: vacation, the opening of TPLEX until Urdaneta, cheap gasoline, hot weather in Manila and La Presa. Add to this the faithful throngs in Manila and other parts of the country hoping to see Pope Francis.
This is NOT the Pope Francis effect we should be getting. Here is a pope who comes from a Third World Country and seemed hell-bent to change the Catholic Church or the perception of the Church. “The most powerful yet the humblest,” as one Filipino writer tweeted.
Pope Francis preferred taking the bus instead of the chauffer driven car. He wore black shoes instead of the red designer shoes preferred by his predecessor. He slept in a small flat. In the Philippines, he decided to stay in the Nunciature instead of Manila Hotel. He refused to kiss the hand of PNoy when he arrived. He asked that the huge tarps of him be torn down, preferring the focus on Jesus.
His time as pope has been marked with themes of love, reconciliation, humility and a less-doctrinal tone of papacy. He washed the feet of the disabled and the sick during Easter time. He embraced and blessed Vinicio Riva, a disfigured man who had been shunned for his deformity all his life.
He asked, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about his position on gays. Because of this, some of the gay Filipinos wore T-shirts printed with “Who am I to judge” when they waited for him on the streets. Myke Sotero, a pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church wrote: Dear Pope Francis. Welcome to the Philippines, I am gay and I have a gay partner, Jojo. We thank you for looking at us differently from how other Catholic bishops see our love. We have been hurt for so long by the church. I believe your positive and loving ways can make a difference in bringing a more accepting and loving atmosphere in the church. Thank you for giving us something to hope for.”
This is the Pope Francis Effect we want in Baguio, please. Not the mountains of trash and the smell of clutch from our Manila visitors again. Not the wanton disregard of our local laws and culture. Are you, the tourists going to spend PhP2,500 a day per tourist, as the local tourism board insists? If so, please use it wisely by shopping responsibly and locally.
Pope Francis was on one mission actually: to help the poor. That is the core of the Pope Francis effect and the rest only fell into place.
In this regard, may we also bring to focus our local politicians to follow into his footsteps. Do not use the alibi that you are of different religion. That is also the alibi you use for not your political parties. Remember, those are not your concerns. Your concern also is to help the poor.  
I am inspired by what our friend, a Manila writer and teacher who decided to join the exodus to the city. She wrote: “The joy of the people for their pope filters through the static of the TVs near Burnham. Such pure joy. I feel the energy of our faith as I take my daily walk, and cannot help but raise my eyes to the sky and send a prayer, words of thanks, a wish.”*


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