Church leaders in the Philippines celebrate Pope Francis’ birthday

By Jing Castaneda

MANILA – Good wishes are pouring in for Pope Francis, who turns 78 on Wednesday.

Church leaders in the Philippines, including his friend Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, are sending their birthday greetings.

“Ang protektahan siyan sa tukso,” said Archbishop Soc Villegas Lingayen. “B-day wish ko sana yung mensahe niyang mercy and compassion, maisabuhay sa buong mundo, ito ang magpapasaya sa kanya.”

December marks not just the pontiff’s birthday, it’s also the 45th anniversary of his ordination.

When he was ordained as a Jesuit priest on Dec. 13, 1969, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio had hoped to travel as a missionary.

Now he is the ultimate evangelist of the Catholic church, hoping to shake things up at the Vatican, beginning with a radical departure from the often lavish lifestyles of many previous Popes.

As the first pontiff from South America, Pope Francis chose to wear simple vestments, live in a Spartan apartment, and do away with the usual pomp and ceremony that came with being the head of the Catholic church.

Pope Francis also reached out to those who are often neglected in society.

In 2012, he criticized his fellow priests who refused to baptize the children of couples who weren’t legally married. He also said the process of annulment should be shorter and cheaper.

“He brought down the gospel, alright to the level of the people, by the people who both understand and love,” said Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop-Emeritus of Manila. “Yon ang dapat na gawin niya nga ng namuno sa Simbahan. So yon din ang pinangaral ni Hesus, yon din ang pinangaral ng mga naunang Papa pero kaniya, inilapat niya ngayon sa sitwasyon ng mga tao – karukhaan, kaalipustahan, mga sakripisyo, itong sakit at opresyon na ilapat, inilalapat, pinagsisikapan niyang ilapa yung pangalan ni Kristo, ang kabaitan at kabanelan ni Kristo sa mga sitwasyon na yan. That is Pope Francis.”

Pope Francis earned praise for comments he made last July 2013, when he opened his arms to the LGBT community.

Last year on his birthday, he chose to spend the day with three who were homeless. Now, his supporters are offering prayers as he continues to lead the Catholic church. Many believe he could be the key to unite both the conservatives and the liberals at the Vatican.

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