Juan L. Mercado

Headline overload

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Simultaneous newsbreaks triggered the headline overload.


The antigraft court suspended Sen. Jinggoy Estrada for 90 days at his pork barrel scam trial. Detained Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla hold their breaths for similar suspensions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his fingerprints are on the SA-11 missile that killed 298 civilians (three Filipinos) aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it was flying over Ukraine en route to Kuala Lumpur. Bodies, plane shards and children’s books splattered on the towns of Snizhne and Torez.

In Gaza, 47,000 Palestinians crammed into 43 UN shelters as Israeli troops blew up multiple tunnels that Hamas burrowed over the years.

Less dramatic but significant items are sidelined. Take the July pastoral letter—“A Nation of Mercy and Compassion”—of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. It confirms the early January 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines. Skip the ceremonies. The pontiff will instead meet with typhoon and earthquake victims in the Visayas.

Francis comes after a Jan. 13-15 stopover in Sri Lanka where he is expected to re-stress that Catholics should continue working for a reconciliation between the government and the Tamil minority. That reinforces his plea, during an earlier “ad limina” call by the bishops of Sri Lanka, led by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

His visit here is to a local Church whose work is woven into the history of the people: schools, care for prisoners, leprosaria, sanctuaries for abused women, orphanages and, in the words of a soused Marcos ally, “those f—g nuns who guarded ballot boxes.”

The local Church’s emerging leaders are breaking away from brimstone excommunication threats made by a few over single-barrel

issues like reproductive health. Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle and Orlando Quevedo are the face of this new generation. They focus on a range of targets—from securing justice for the slum dwellers to cooperation with Muslims and marginalized minorities. They also live austerely.

“Are we a church that really calls and welcomes sinners with open arms?” Francis asked earlier. “Or are we a church closed in on herself? Are we a church which is a house for everyone… the strongest, the weakest, sinners, the indifferent… Are we a church where one cares for another, where the face of God dwells?”


“Become a people rich in mercy” is the distinctive way to prepare for Francis’ visit, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas wrote. “Let us make mercy our national identity.” He lists practical suggestions, from sharing food with the hungry to simply refraining from the use of harsh words.

Two short years ago, the Catholic Church was rocked by the first resignation of a pope in nearly 500 years. Benedict XVI quit, citing failing health. The conclave then elected a little- known cardinal who had then already booked his return flight to Argentina.

“Buona serra” Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square—and stunned them by asking for their blessing first. He took the name of Francis, the mendicant friar from the North Umbrian town of Assisi. The simple lifestyle of Francis and his followers is credited for recasting a 13th-century church splintered by corruption.

From day one, Francis set the example. He waved aside the ermine cloak for a papal elect. “Wear it yourself if you wish, Monsignor,” he told the attendant. “But this carnival is over.” He shunned the Vatican apartment and lodges in a spartan Vatican hostel. He grounded papal limousines, tooling about in a  modest car. He stood in line for coffee.

Pope Francis’ reforms vetted and closed out 3,000 suspect and unwanted accounts in the Vatican Bank, a New York Times editorial noted. And more important, he’s instituting reforms that rocked its governing bureaucracy, the Curia, mired in turf wars.

Reforms are tough but progressing, say two key cardinals: Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras and Oswald Gracias of India. They are among eight prelates Francis picked to spearhead his recasting of the Church. None are Italians.

By December, this council of eight shall have submitted for Francis’ approval a new constitution for the Curia. It would replace “Pastor Bonus,” the 1988 apostolic charter written by the now St. John Paul II.

The proposed reforms range from capping service in the Vatican to five years and bringing more lay people into the Curia. It would scrap automatic cardinal red hats for Vatican officials. More diocesan bishops with expertise will serve in the  councils. Francis fired a German archbishop for creaming funds and has taken on the Italian mafia. These actions are jolting the Vatican.

Meanwhile, he named 58-year-old Rainer Maria Woelki archbishop of Cologne, Reuters reported. Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper called him “the prototype of a new generation of bishops… not grumpy and dogmatic…. These men speak of mercy and mean it. They’re open to people, even their critics, to a point and have a heart for the disadvantaged. Still, they’re theologically conservative.”

Worldwide, Catholic population crested at 1.21 billion at the end of 2011, says the latest “Statistical Yearbook of the Church,” with increases in Africa (4.3 percent) and Asia (2 percent). Europe and the Americas kept abreast of population growth. The number of priests, religious and seminarians increased. In contrast, there has been a 10-percent decrease in the number of women religious since 2001.


Come October, a synod of bishops called by Francis will tackle issues not visible on the horizon in the 1980 conference. The issues range from surrogate parenthood to childless marriages. The gathering will affect the Philippines where the “Francis effect” is increasingly felt.

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