Pope Francis Holy Land pilgrimage photos from former chaplain for Filipinos

Philippine-born Franciscan Fr. Angelo Beda Ison (front right), who had served for a decade as chaplain of the Filipino community in Israel, sent CiA this photo in which Franciscans presented a plaque to Pope Francis at the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem where the pope had lunch with families from Palestine during his pilgrimage in the Holy Land on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras (May 24 – 26, 2014). - Photo published with permission.

Philippine-born Franciscan Fr. Angelo Beda Ison (front right), who had served for a decade as chaplain of the Filipino community in Israel, sent CiA this photo in which Franciscans presented a plaque to Pope Francis at the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem where the pope had lunch with families from Palestine during his pilgrimage in the Holy Land on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras (May 24 – 26, 2014). – Photo published with permission.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, beside the Church of the Nativity which is dedicated to the Child Jesus. Following is the full text of his homily published on Vatican Radio’s website

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12).

What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born! I thank God and I thank all of you who have welcomed me on my pilgrimage: President Mahmoud Abbas and the other civil authorities; Patriarch Fouad Twal and the other bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, the priests, the good Franciscans, the consecrated persons and all those who labor to keep faith, hope and love alive in these lands; the faithful who have come from Gaza and Galilee, and the immigrants from Asia and Africa. Thank you for your welcome!

The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world. The angel announces to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…”.
Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a “diagnostic” sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human. Here we can think of the work carried out by the Ephpheta Paul VI institute for hearing and speech impaired Palestinian children: it is a very real sign of God’s goodness. It is a clear sign that society is healthier.

To us, the men and women of the twenty-first century, God today also says: “This will be a sign for you”, look to the child…
The Child of Bethlehem is frail, like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.

Sadly, in this world, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside. All too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean. Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.

And we have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children? Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to “waste time” with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?

“This will be a sign for us: you will find a child…”. Perhaps that little boy or girl is crying. He is crying because he is hungry, because she is cold, because he or she wants to be picked up and held in our arms… Today too, children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children. Their cry is stifled: the cry of these children is stifled! They must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled (cf. Mt 2:18).

“This will be a sign for you”: you will find a child. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love.

Mary, Mother of Jesus,
you who accepted, teach us how to accept; you who adored, teach us how to adore;
you who followed, teach us how to follow. Amen

*************

Pope Francis visited the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, the second day of his pilgrimage in the Holy Land. He paid a courtesy visit to President Mahmoud Abbas of the State of Palestine and addressed representatives of the Palestinian authority. Before noon, he said Mass for a throng of pilgrims in Manger Square in Bethlehem.

He had lunch with families from Palestine in the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova, before his private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Philippine-born Father Angelo Beda Ison (front left in cassock) was among religious who welcomed Pope Francis in the Franciscan convent in Bethlehem on the second day of the pope's May 24-26 pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Photo from Fr. Ison published with permission. - Catholic In Asia

Philippine-born Father Angelo Beda Ison (front left in cassock) was among religious who welcomed Pope Francis in the Franciscan convent in Bethlehem on the second day of the pope’s May 24-26 pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Photo from Fr. Ison published with permission. – Catholic In Asia

He proceeded to visit with children from Palestinian Refugee camps of Deheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin at the Phoenix Center of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp.

Pope Francis then visited Jerusalem on Monday, the last day of his pilgrimage. There he met with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Nobel Peace Prize Israeli President Shimon Peres and chief rabbis of Israel. Highlights of the pope’s activities on the final pilgrimage day are summed up here

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Commentary by Hector Welgampola 

Pope Francis addressed the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization speaking publicly in English for the first time in a video message screened at the end of the closing Mass Oct. 18, 2013 at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Pope Francis addressed the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization speaking publicly in English for the first time in a video message screened at the end of the closing Mass Oct. 18, 2013 at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

India’s bishops have invited  Pope Francis to visit their country. Other Asian invites too have been reported from South Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. More may follow.

Will such journeys offer the innovative pope opportunities to downplay the diplomatic aspect of papal visits and focus on pastoral outreach? If political fanfare are axed, the visits will give the Holy Father more access to people for two-way sharing — a model for bishops’ pastoral visits, as well. In hindsight, past papal visits may shed some light on what began as a papal pilgrimage to Asia.

Amid the first flush of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John XXIII agreed to hold the 1964 International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay (now Mumbai). He knew, though, he was not fit to travel there, much less for an elephant-ride planned by Cardinal Valerian Gracias of Bombay. After the good pope’s death, his successor, Pope Paul VI, chose to be the first papal pilgrim to Asia.

It was not mere grandeur of traditional Indian hospitality that made the event memorable. As the then editor of “Bombay Examiner” told me, from the initial Namaste on, Pope Paul’s Mahatma-like simplicity won hearts. Catholics’ fervor of Eucharistic worship impressed the Hindu nation. So did the conference on “Christian Revelation and non-Christian Religions.”

A pre-congress seminar on “Food and Health” focused on the problem of poverty. Pope Paul had invited the FAO head to speak there on “Freedom from Hunger: the Challenge of the Century.” America magazine said the congress: “created in Asia a hitherto unappreciated image of the Church: that of a compassionate Vicar of Christ – a Christ born poor – more at home in the slums of Bombay than in the magnificence of the papal court.”

Children in impoverished communities around Manila survive with very little food and other basic needs. (Ed Gerlock photos published with permission)

Children in impoverished communities around Manila survive with very little food and other basic needs. (Ed Gerlock photos published with permission)

The papal court too had begun to change by the time of the next noteworthy papal visit to Asia. It took place in 1970, a week after Pope Paul set the 80-year retirement age for cardinals. Leaving behind the restive old guard, the pope took his longest trip in time and distance.

In Manila, his main stopover, the pope joined 180 Asian bishops to set up plans for the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences). After the historic event, came a symbolic gesture: Speaking as “a humble apostle of Christ,” he broadcast from Hong Kong a message of love for the Chinese people.

But thereafter, cares of office including negotiations to end the Vietnam War as well as efforts to contain the backlash of Humanae Vitae limited Pope Paul to routine travel.

Blessed John Paul II was the widest travelled pope. Some 15 of his 219 travels included Asian destinations. Prayer at the Mahatma Gandhi Samadhi, on the 1986 visit to India, inspired him to set the annual interreligious prayer day in Assisi.

The 1998 Asian Synod in Rome and release of the synod document Ecclesia in Asia in India engaged many Asian bishops. The synodal boost to local cultures was in sync with what his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope had said: “It was necessary to set about the work of inculturation, as Father Matteo Ricci, the apostle of China, proposed….”

Some of the more than 15,000 Catholics in the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh religiously went to Sunday Mass at various buildings. Here's how we went to church: shoeless, pewless. NJ Viehland Photos

Some of the more than 15,000 Catholics in the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh religiously went to Sunday Mass at various buildings. Here’s how we went to church: shoeless, pewless. NJ Viehland Photos

However, even as of then, a move was afoot on the very outskirts of China to retire the Ricci concept of inculturation. It all began with a theological conference in Hong Kong under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Invitees from doctrinal commissions of Asian bishops’ conferences were introduced to “interculturality” in place of the popularly accepted teaching on inculturation. Our religion has a culture as much as other religions have their own cultures, bishops were told. Inculturation was called a misnomer diluting Christian culture with extraneous elements. These directives stifled future efforts toward dialogue and adaptation. The rest is history.

AMOR South Asia Postulants NJ Viehland Photos

Will these memories encourage Asian papal visit organizers to set such stalled pastoral issues on the agenda for Pope Francis? Meeting laypeople also will help the Holy Father understand their genuine needs. In addition to support on issues of justice and poverty, Asian Catholics need a faith boost through meaningful worship. Will the pope’s Latin American experience lead him to restore the trend of worshipping God in words, symbols and music that resonate the joys, sorrows and yearnings of Asian peoples?

"Lord, have mercy" was sung in Chinese at the XVI Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious women in Tagaytay, City, south of Manila in Nov. 2013. NJ Viehland Photos

“Lord, have mercy” was sung in Chinese at the XVI Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious women in Tagaytay, City, south of Manila in Nov. 2013. NJ Viehland Photos

Girls and boys perform to the theme song for Year of Faith at the launching of the celeberation at San Fernando de Dilao Church in Paco, Manila Nov. 3 led by Cardinal designate Luis Antonio Tagle / N. J. Viehland Photo

Girls and boys perform to the theme song for Year of Faith at the launching of the celeberation at San Fernando de Dilao Church in Paco, Manila Nov. 3 led by Cardinal designate Luis Antonio Tagle – N. J. Viehland Photo

As much as feasts of medieval saints are less meaningful to Asian Catholics, liturgy desacralised to suit post-christian societies has lost the sense of mystery cherished by Asians. And, Pope Francis’ recent remarks on the need for liturgical reform hold out hope.

In earlier conversations with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the future pope had said that: “Each nation picks up the vision of God and translates it in accordance with the culture and elaborates, purifies and gives it a system.” No doubt, such a mindset will help the pilgrim pope see the need for freedom to adapt and develop worship styles to suit the genius of Asian peoples.

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (w/ red shash), Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) follows behind Vietnam Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh during the welcome procession for delegates of the 10th FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc Pastoral Center compound Dec. 11, 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (w/ red shash), President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) follows behind Vietnam Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh during the welcome procession for delegates of the 10th FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc Pastoral Center compound Dec. 11, 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

May upcoming papal visits encourage the FABC to update the Holy Father about the stalling of inculturation and the push to homogenize liturgy. If genuine inculturation is to resume, worshippers’ faith-based living traditions should take priority over post-christian viruses cultured in alien theology labs. And may Asians be freed up from curial shackles that inhibit their yearning to de-Helenize Jesus’ message and restore its original authenticity.

Fifty years after the first papal pilgrimage to Asia, we pray that upcoming Asian visits will help Pope Francis see the elephant in the room and not be led on white-elephant rides.

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