(Note: This column was first published by the Manila Times on the first week of April, 2005. Written by Dino Balabo, the column entitled Kapeng Tagalog came out every week for over a year.)
Residents of Central Luzon have vivid memories of their unique experiences with Pope John Paul II that kept them spell bound.
On his first visit to the country 26-year ago, the Roman Pontiff blessed the Dambana ng Kagitingan in Bataan while en route to Subic Naval Base, then to Morong, Bataan where he met with Vietnamese refugees.
As recounted by veteran journalist Ben Gamos, a white pigeon settled on the Pope’s right shoulder while addressing the refugees. It was moment reminiscent of Jesus Christ’s post baptism experience as told in the Gospel.
During his second visit in 1995 in the occasion of the World Youth Day, kneeling carabaos from Pulilan town were brought to Manila and the country’s beast of burden knelt before the Pope.
It was also on that second visit when members of the Philippine National Police stumbled upon a plot to end the Pope’s life. Nueva Ecija provincial police director Supt. Alex Paul Monteagudo said that a fire incident led police to the capture of Abdul Hakim Murad shortly after, and of Ramzi Yousef later in Pakistan.
However, as the Central Luzon resident join the world in mourning the Pope’s death, not too many know much about the unique institution of the Papacy. Below is part of research paper I submitted to North Park College Theological Seminary for the completion of my two year masters degree.
In writing the history of the papacy, James Corbett said, “no other in the western world is older, none has had greater influence in the formation of Christian civilization. None has been loved or hated so much, none so often misunderstood, and reviled. It has been called the seat of the anti-Christ, of usurpers, and imposters, the instrument of shrewd men trying to enslave the minds of men, yet it survive all the attacks made upon it and today, enjoys great prestige, respect, influence throughout the world. It’s very vitality amazes and confounds its enemies.”
The concept and practice of the doctrine of the papacy didn’t come overnight. It was subjugated to the circumstances of the times and place and was established by painful stages, and many centuries were to pass before the theory was translated into practice.
It is interesting to note that the word or title “Pope” did not originate from Rome and it was not the Roman Church who first used the title “Pope” for her bishops.
Geoffrey Barraclough explained that the title “Pope” was an Eastern and African title, in early times it was applied to the bishops of the primatial Sees of Carthage Africa and Alexandria, Egypt. In 250 AD, the clergy of Rome, addressed St. Cyprian, and refer to him as the “most blessed and glorious pope”. However, during that time, the word ‘pope’ wasn’t seen as a title for power and authority because the papal office wasn’t established yet and no doctrine was conceptualized. The Church has to wait for 190 years before Pope Leo the Great, pronounced the theory of the papacy, and gave Rome actual primacy.
More than a century later, Barraclough said, a Roman bishop by the name of Siricious (384-399 AD) used the title Pope and claimed in his decretals and rescripts the same binding force as synodical decrees since he asserted the care of all churches. However, William Macdonald asserted that, it was Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) who decreed that the title should be confined exclusively to the Roman popes.
History tells us that the papacy rose to many occasions, but sometimes committed mistakes. It was even the subject of Dr. Martin Luther’s treatises. But the protestant reformer himself did not condemn the institutions as a whole, instead, he pointed at specific abuses. Such inconsistencies only reflect the perfection of God and the imperfection of men who represents Him.
The 47th bishop of Rome, Pope Leo the Great (440-461 AD) is an example of a great church leader like the deceased Pope John Paul II.
Phillip Schaff in his book Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers wrote, “As a boy, Leo was trained by Leo Magnus, the first great Latin speaking Pope and first great Italian theologian. During his early manhood, Leo was employed by Pope Zosimus to deliver letters to St. Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo in Africa.
Under Pope Celestine (422-432), he became the archdeacon of Rome and was appealed to by the great theologian Cyril to procure the Pope’s support in stopping the designs of the Juvenal, the bishop of Jerusalem.”
In his whole career as pope, Leo the Great proved himself to be a staunch defender of orthodoxy. He defended the Church against the Manichean heresy (444 AD), against Priscillanism (447AD), and against Euthychianism. In the political world, Leo’s triumphs
includes his intercession for the city of Rome to the barbarian Atilla the Hun (452 AD), who was defeated by Aetius at Chalos but nevertheless continued his devastating inroad to Italy.
Pope Leo persuaded Atilla to retire beyond the Danube. Less than three years later, he found himself again standing for Rome with the Vandal Genseric (455 AD) who was about to invade Italy. Pope Leo met with Genseric outside the city, saving Rome from destruction.
In the same token, Pope John Paul II displayed exceptional courage as the leader of the Church. He is now called the holy and missionary pope whose more than 25 years of leadership magnified the practice of what Christianity should be. He has the distinction
of being the first Pope to implement what has been approved at the second Vatican council which reflect the principle of ecclesia semper reformada.
We believe in the separation of Church and State, but we have so much to learn from it. Lets hope and pray that our government and the powers that be would also realize the importance of the principle of constant metanoia, that like the papacy, it may also have the vitality that will confound its enemies. Dino Balabo