Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Two retired Filipino cardinals have invited Pope Francis to visit the Philippines, Asia's bastion of Roman Catholicism that the Pontiff has called "Islands of Saints".
Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the archbishop emeritus of Manila, and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the retired archbishop of Cebu, extended the invitation to Francis during the new Pope's audience with the world's cardinals at the Vatican on Friday.
Rosales and Vidal said the Pope could make the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress to be hosted by Cebu an occasion to visit the Philippines.
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They said Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, archbishop of Manila, wanted to organise a third National Day of Clergy that could be expanded to include Asian clergy. The occasion could also provide Pope Francis an opportunity to address the churches of Asia.
Vidal said Pope Francis met all of the 155 cardinals, retired or active and eligible to vote and be voted as Pope, one by one, giving each of them an opportunity to foster "fellowship" with the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
On seeing the retired Manila prelate, Francis recognised him immediately. "Oh, you're Cardinal Rosales," the Pope said.
'Islas de santos'
Rosales said he told the Pope in Spanish, "Your Holiness, the Philippines is now preparing for your first pastoral visit as Pope!"
Rosales said the Pope smiled and said, "Vamos a ver (Let us see)."
On seeing Vidal, who took part in the 2005 conclave where then Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, placed second to the Pope he has now replaced, Francis exclaimed, "Filipinas, islas de santos (The Philippines, islands of saints)!"
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Vidal said he was initially stumped by the Pope's remark, explaining that "islas de santos" can also mean "islands of holy people" because the Philippines is known to be devoutly Catholic.
It could also mean that the Pope was making a reference to the recent canonisation of Pedro Calungsod, whom Cebu and the other Visayan islands claim as their own, as the Philippines' second canonised saint after another martyr, San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Both Filipino saints were canonised by the new Pope's predecessors, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Merceditas Tuazon said she would soon make a request to the new Pope for the image of Calungsod to be set up at St. Peter's Basilica in recognition of the Philippines' contributions to Christianity.
A painting of Lorenzo Ruiz already graces one of the chapels of the basilica.
Francis' description of the Philippines could also be a reference to the high profile that the country has earned as a result of the intense speculation in the Philippine press that Cardinal Tagle could become Pope because of his sterling qualifications.
In the run-up to the conclave, Tagle had been much bruited about in the media and by key "Vaticanologists" as a leading contender from outside Europe.
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But Rosales said he had always cautioned against too much speculation about his successor's prospects for the papacy.
"As I always tell Filipinos, let's not just pray for one of our own to become Pope; let's pray for the good of the Church," he said.
Rosales and Vidal participated in the congregational discussions among active and retired cardinals before the papal conclave that started on March 13 and ended quickly after only five ballotings.
At more than 80 years old, both Rosales and Vidal were no longer eligible to vote or be voted in the conclave.
Vidal said the 2005 conclave was his "first and last".
They said they had known of Bergoglio as a "quiet and unassuming man". In Vatican conferences where the bishops would congregate, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires was usually quiet and reserved, they said.
Rosales couldn't help but chuckle that for all the media frenzy about the papabile, the possible successors to Pope Benedict, and the probability that the conclave would be drawn out, none from the news agencies and the social media was able to predict that a self-effacing and very modest archbishop from Argentina would be elected in one of the quickest papal elections in history.
Asked why the media did not get it right, Rosales said, "God does not read social media."
Rosales attributed the conclave's result to "the surprise of the Holy Spirit" and the "humour of God".
Vidal, sitting beside Rosales at the refectory Pontificio Collegio Filippino, where Filipino priests studying or working in pontifical institutes are boarded, agreed. "God knows how to surprise us," he said.
From across the globe, Vidal's successor, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, sent in his agreement. "We must prepare for surprises," he texted. "To me, it's the work of the Holy Spirit."
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But Rosales said the biggest surprise was the papal name of Bergoglio-"Francis," from St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan movement that highlighted the charism of poverty in order to check the materialism of the medieval church of his time.
"St. Francis was a joker," Rosales said, referring to the saint's well-known lightheartedness. He said the saint should indicate the humour of God.
"We had been speculating about this and that but in the end, God surprises us with his humour," Rosales said.
On Saturday, Pope Francis chose the name of the founder of the mendicant movement because he wanted "a poor Church" to work "for the poor".
He explained that when he was elected, a fellow cardinal embraced him and said, "Don't forget the poor."
"That's when I thought of Francis of Assisi," he said. "And that is how the name came to me: Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, of peace."
"This is what I want," he added. "A poor Church for the poor."
Rosales himself displayed lighthearted humour when he joked that the soda giant Coca-Cola had been known to have been very much against the possible election of Cardinal Angelo Scola, a papabile. "Because if he becomes Pope," he explained, "he will be called Pope Scola," a pun on Pepsi Cola, Coke's rival.
He also poked fun at himself and Vidal for being "fundidos", as retired cardinals no longer eligible to take part in the conclave are called.
When Tuazon brought with her during a breakfast with the cardinals a bottle of natural squeezed kiwi juice, known for its rejuvenating properties, Rosales christened the tonic "Fundido's Juice".
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