“It was a frail child, in need of protection, who brought God’s goodness, mercy and justice into the world,” these were Pope Francis’ words at his Mass in Rizal Park.
An estimated 6 million Filipino faithful were present, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father on the final day of his apostolic visit to the Philippines.Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the attendance at the Mass was the largest in papal history.
A steady rain in the Filipino capital did little to dampen the spirits of those present who were there to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño (the Child Jesus). Many carried statues of the Child Jesus to whom Filipino Catholics are devoted.
In his homily, Pope Francis expressed his joy at celebrating this important feast with them. “The image of the Holy Child Jesus accompanied the spread of the Gospel in this country from the beginning,” he said.
“Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the scepter, the globe and the cross, he continues to remind us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood.”
The Pope went on to say that the Christ Child reminds the faithful of their deepest identity as children of God and “brothers and sisters in Christ.” He also noted that this kinship could be seen in the solidarity shown by Filipinos to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
“Sometimes, when we see the troubles, difficulties and wrongs all around us, we are tempted to give up,” he said. “It seems that the promises of the Gospel do not apply; they are unreal. But the Bible tells us that the great threat to God’s plan for us is, and always has been, the lie. The devil is the father of lies. Often he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern, like everyone else. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes.”
The message of the Child Jesus, the Holy Father continued, is important to not forget those things that really matter, particularly in protecting one’s Christian identity. Reflecting on King Herod’s persecution of children in order to kill Christ, the Pope said that the feast of the Child Jesus reminds Christians of the importance of protecting families.
“Sadly,” he said, “in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
“We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”
Concluding his homily, the Holy Father entrusted the people of the Philippines to the Child Jesus in order to build a world of justice, integrity and peace.
“May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Philippines and to sustain the Christians of this great nation in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world.”
Before the conclusion of the Mass, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, president of the Filipino Bishops’ Conference, compared the end of Pope Francis’ visit to a sunset.
“Some of us are afraid of the sunset as we are afraid of the dark,” he said. “But we are not afraid anymore. In the many days and months and years ahead, we will always bask in the sunrise because you have brought us awesome sunshine to last us many lifetimes. Holy Father you are our sunshine!”
Archbishop Villegas expressed his gratitude on behalf of the Filipino bishops and people, particularly in celebrating the Feast of the Child Jesus.
“Thank you for being a child of God with us, among us. You are our Father. You are our brother. You are our friend. You are our inspiration. You are our sunshine! Pope Francis we love you!”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, also thanked the Pope for his visit, particularly to the poor, the suffering and the abandoned. He assured the Pope of the Filipino people’s commitment to follow his call to evangelize the peripheries and those who are marginalized. Those gathered accompanied the Cardinal’s words with cheering and applause.
“You arrived in the Philippines three days ago. Tomorrow you will go. Every Filipino wants to go with you not to Rome – but to the peripheries, to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, sciences, culture, education, and social communications,” he said.
“We will go to these worlds to bring the light of Jesus, Jesus who is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the Church. We will go where the Light of Jesus is needed.”