Lessons on “With-ness” from Pope Francis

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By Benhur Arcayan (Malacanang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Among all the public appearances of Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines, the most moving was the one in Tacloban, Leyte with the survivors of typhoon Yolanda on January 17, 2015.

Another typhoon hit the place on the scheduled date of the Pope’s visit. The possibility of cancelling his flight to Tacloban from Manila was real. In the end, he decided to go on with the trip, with the pilot deciding to advance the scheduled arrivals and departures.

In Tacloban, as seen on TV and news photos, the skies were grey and the grounds of the Tacloban airport – where the gathering was held — were damp. The people wore raincoats and waited for the Pope outside in the rain. When the Pope met the people, he too wore a raincoat.

It has been said that a special raincoat had been set aside for him, but he wanted to wear one that was like what everybody else wore. It has also been said that there was a plan for him to say mass and deliver a homily inside a church and then for the mass to be televised to the crowd at the airport. But the Pope preferred to have mass at the airport with the crowd as originally planned, beneath a specially-prepared shed.

During the mass, he delivered a homily which moved most of his audience to tears. The following are excerpts:

… When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you – a little bit late, but I”m here. I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord. And he never lets us down. Father, you might say to me, I was let down because I have lost so many things, my house, my livelihood. It”s true if you say that and I respect those sentiments. But Jesus is there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not let us down. He was consecrated as Lord on online casino that throne and there he experienced all the calamities that we experience. Jesus is Lord. And the Lord from the cross is there for you. In everything the same as us. That is why we have a Lord who cries with us and walks with us in the most difficult moments of life.

So many of you have lost everything. I don”t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord – Why, Lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross. I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced. And beside the cross was his Mother. We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say “Mommy” – like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times – “Mommy”.

Let us respect a moment of silence together and look to Christ on the cross. He understands us because he endured everything. Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say – “Mother”. In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart. Let us know that we have a Mother, Mary, and a great Brother, Jesus. We are not alone. We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help. And we too, because of this, we feel more like brothers and sisters because we helped each other…

The Pope’s words and gestures to the typhoon survivors in Tacloban are relevant to me too. First, I have my own share of personal crosses, and while I dare not equate my own sufferings to those of people who have lost their homes and loved ones in a typhoon, just the same, the Pope’s words give me the necessary strength and wisdom I need to carry my own crosses with love.

Second, I often feel helpless in the face of other people’s sufferings. I often do not know what to do or what to say to ease others’ pain, and I sometimes use this as an excuse not to reach out. The Pope’s words and example showed me that whatever we do or say to help the suffering, what really consoles them is for us to be with them, just as Christ is with us in our sufferings. As Peter Kreeft puts it, “With-ness: that is all friendship wants.”

Being with others in their suffering does not always require riding a plane amidst a storm to where they are. It does take effort, though. For example, to listen to someone who needs a listening ear can be a big sacrifice for some people, including me. But it is something doable, and I have no excuse not to do it.

The Pope’s words and examples showed me not to use my inability to heal other people’s hurts as an excuse not to reach out to the suffering. Suffering people do not always expect others to alleviate their pain or to explain why they suffer. Indeed, suffering cannot be wiped out from this fallen world. But while we cannot take away others’ sufferings, we can accompany them – just as what Pope Francis did to those typhoon survivors in Tacloban, just as Christ does for all of us.

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes, from the Philippines, is a lawyer, writer, amateur astronomer, a gardening enthusiast, a voracious reader, a karate brown belter, an avid traveler, and a lover of birds, fish, rabbits, and horses. She is a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who reads the entire trilogy once a year. She is the eldest daughter in a large, happy Catholic family.

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