From Sri Lankan Elephants to Philippine Jesuits for Pope Francis

How does one explain the privilege of having been able to encounter this holy man, Francis, except to say, sincerely, it’s not explainable? No work, no achievement, no advocacy, no membership in any group or society was entitlement for this. It was sheer undeserved grace, as grace always is. The event, I understand, was conceived long ago when Cardinal Chito Tagle suggested to Pope Francis that he might visit his Jesuit brothers in the Philippines. It was a suggestion that already bore fruit in Korea, when the Pope suddenly visited the Jesuit community of Sogang University. It was a suggestion that kept people guessing whether the Pope would visit AdMU. Fr. Joe Quilongquiolong had even spruced up his Loyola House of Studies to welcome him. As it turned out, 40 of us were invited. The personal invitation signed by Abp. Guissepe Pinto said, “His Holiness Pope Francis will receive Reverend Father Joel Tabora at the Apostolic Nunciature on Friday, 16 January 2015, at 6:30 pm.”

Invited, I went gratefully. We gathered in a special sala of the Nunciature. Suddenly the Pope was there, greeting each of us individually. When he got to the front of the group he said with a warm smile, “I was told that there were 40 Jesuits waiting here.” Then, with a twinkle in his eye, “Forty illnesses!”   We roar.  Fr. Provincial said, “In Sri Lanka, there were 40 elephants to welcome the Pope. Here, there were 40 Jesuits to welcome you.” Quick on the repartee, the Pope responded, “But in Sri Lanka the elephants were very well dressed.” He said that he would use Spanish to talk to us.   If he used English, he said, he would not be able to say anything and we would not be able to understand anything. So, for about an hour, the intimate no-holds-barred conversation between the Jesuit Pope and his brothers in the Philippines took place. Between the spirited Spanish and the translation I will not even attempt to summarize what was said. What was communicated to me was joy, simplicity, honesty, encouragement to remain faithful to the transcendent in our calling, challenge to go to the peripheries, pride in the elevated dignity of the Filipino people, and, because of a shared vocation or a shared baptism, a special felt fraternity in shared mission. It was a grace undeserved.

From behind the Pope, a signal came that time was up. After all, after the Pope’s visit to Malacañan that day, his Cathedral Mass, and his encounter with families at the Mall of Asia, he hadn’t even had supper. There were photographs taken. I took his hand. I kissed his ring. We all together sang, “In omnibus amare, in omnibus servire Dominum” – “In all’ – with Francis among us – “to love and serve the Lord.”




About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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3 Responses to From Sri Lankan Elephants to Philippine Jesuits for Pope Francis

  1. rizaracho says:

    “It was sheer undeserved grace, as grace always is.” True, miracles often are. To be chosen to be one among the few to an experience that comes but once is truly undeserved grace. Here, in the mission school in SAG, Taunggyi, Myanmar, I, too, felt a most profound understanding of a receiver’s undeserved grace. No words can fully describe my joy; and so, I remain awed before my God and His gift, the undeserved grace of teaching.

    Riza Atty. Pilariza Racho-Baldovino, PhD Associate Professor 6 School of Education College of Law Ateneo de Davao University Tel. No. (082) 221.2411 local 8403

    Editor-in-Chief, Mindanao Law Journal College of Law G/F Dotterweich Building Ateneo de Davao University Roxas Avenue, 8000 Davao City Tel. No. (082) 221.2411 local 8501 or 8214 Mobile: +63.922.897.7285

  2. Grace is an act that God himself decides to give. It is not something that we can ask on the basis of whatever meritorious undertakings or entitlements. Hence, it is a gift – one that is freely given. To say “grace undeserved” specially recognizes our smallness before God. It is an act of humility to admit that despite our failings, we have been invited to do something magnanimous in God’s name. And thus, our humanly reply is: “Am i worthy to be invited to share in God’s banquet?”. But God, perhaps, supreme as he is has seen our potential to be of great service to him. Let us pray fervently that we may always be able to discern His will so that all our undertakings become one with that of our creator. Viva il papa!

  3. dboncan says:

    I hope Fr Tabora, that you also heard him say “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage.” and begin to put the AdDU House in order. Good day

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