By Paul Henson, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – It was the same excitement that San Francisco Vicar for Clergy Fr. Raymund Reyes had when he went to see Pope Francis at a Vatican papal audience in 2013.
Bearing tickets that allowed him a ring-side view, he got as close as ever to the Holy Father.
But Fr. Reyes said what the Pope did was a pleasant and humbling surprise.
“All of a sudden he appeared at the back and went to the people without a ticket and spent half an hour greeting them,” he recalled. “Now that was a change.”
Fr. Reyes said this was a sign of things to come for the Catholic Church under the stewardship of Pope Francis — a love for the poor and the least in society.
“I think this is the universal language of the church now; from doctrinal to love for the poor,” he explained.
But the Holy Father also shook the very hierarchy of the church.
In his 2014 Christmas message, he criticized the church bureaucracy for too much gossiping and thirst for power — just a few of the problems of an institution rocked even by sex scandals.
For Fr. Reyes, this is a reminder for the clergy to get down from the pulpit and get in touch with humanity.
Pope Francis is easily remembered for his striking words like “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays in the church. Or when he celebrated matrimony for living-in or previously divorced couples.
But Fr. Reyes said the underlying message of this is not faith without responsibility.
“The pope still affirms teachings on family, marriage, homosexuality. But while the church affirms these, we are called to be merciful and not exclude people for their beliefs, or orientation,” he said.
Church leaders like Fr. Reyes hope that when the pope fever in the Philippines dies down, Pope Francis’ message of mercy and compassion will remain in the hearts and minds of Filipinos.