Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Sustaining the ‘Francis Effect’

Posted on January 24, 2015 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 25, 2015 – 12:00am

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What a visit it was. He came and captured most everyone’s hearts with his humility and humor, compassion and simplicity. And yes, with his big smile.

Some said the five days felt like a spiritual retreat. To others, the gatherings like those held in UST and the Luneta were akin to Woodstock — peace and love everywhere — without the drugs and sex. However you describe it, to the great majority, it was a life-changing experience. They were overwhelmed. The “Francis Effect” touched our very core.

It has now been close to a week since the Pope’s visit. I look at Facebook and other social media and I notice that the topic of Pope Francis’ visit is beginning to recede. There are still a lot of posts and comments about the visit but people are beginning to get back to their own lives and are once again posting and talking about the other things that interest them.

After a high, like this, it is true that we must get back to the ground zero of our daily lives. “Down from the hill. Down to the earth go I,” as the Ateneo graduation song goes. As a zen proverb puts it, “After enlightenment, the laundry.” There is the mundane uninspired everyday life that must be lived.

I was with a group of friends two days ago and we were talking about the Pope’s visit and how we as a people were so moved. What was amazing was people waited for hours in the rain, many without food. And they listened to every word Francis said.

We all appreciated the compassion, love and humility that flowed from him. It was so real you could not miss it.

And we behaved like good, disciplined and decent citizens. We stayed behind the barricades. We followed the rather strict security instructions with few complaints. And we felt proud because we as a people actually did it.

In the Pope’s homilies, he talked about many issues. He spoke about reaching out to the peripheries and helping the poor and disempowered, the evil of corruption, the gift of family, the wisdom of women, the peace talks, the care of children, materialism, climate change, the importance of crying in compassion. We were all touched and impressed at how clearly the messages were delivered and received.

After analyzing everything, our little group began to toy with the idea of how best we could keep the messages of the Pope alive and doable in our society.

While he spoke as a spiritual leader, the issues he raised also had great significant socio-political implications. How can you discuss poverty or corruption for example without getting into a socio-cultural-political discussion?

We asked ourselves many questions. What if we could look into his homilies as inspiration and really come up with doable actions in our everyday lives? Can we make his words flesh and carry them out in concrete ways that will help the poor? What if we can start a movement that people could believe in and follow, and adopt the Pope’s messages and take creative positive steps to make life better? Can his words unleash the power of conversion in our society to be a more caring one? What can we do right now that will make a difference?

All politics is local, it has been said. Like politics, good intentions for the world and mankind must be expressed locally as well. We must do so in our own here and now.

We can start by caring about our own neighborhoods. We can perhaps show more concern about garbage, peace and order, safety and the wellbeing of everyone. This requires active involvement and community service. This calls upon us to think and care about what’s outside the gates of our houses.

Around our own community, there are rich and poor areas that have co-existed peacefully for decades. The neighborhood is rather friendly. People in the geographically higher parts of the subdivision often open their doors to the flood-stricken during strong typhoons. Many households hire their help, including kasambahay and drivers from the poorer side of the community. It s not a perfect neighborhood but it is clear that a level of interdependence already exists. A community will disintegrate if people do not interact or care about each other.

Another thing we can do to curb corruption is to educate ourselves and others about the issue so that more competent and honest people are voted into office. In fact we should be doing voters’ education this early for the elections in 2016. It’s time to stop lamenting and blaming others for voting the corrupt into office again and again. We either put up or shut up. We can do something about it.

There is also much work we can do to alleviate the suffering of those who have less in life. I know a group of women who have been working with the poor and contributing resources to make sure all the kids in their community have three full meals a day. We can start our own or simply support initiatives like these that are already up and running.

There are many creative and practical ways to live out the Pope’s teachings. These are only some of the things I have thought of. In truth, there are limitless opportunities for practicing compassion. We just have to look at where we are right now and respond with love and creativity.

The saddest thing would be to allow the “Francis Effect” to simply fade away and watch ourselves falling into ever-deeper cynicism. The commitment being asked of us is that we not only shed tears to see and feel the suffering of others clearly, but we must also do something about it.

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