SIDE-TRACKING calls on Pope Benedict XVI to decline the invitation of President Macapagal-Arroyo for him to visit the country, UST Rector Ernesto Arceo, O.P., said the Pope should come to the Philippines.

In an interview with the Varsitarian last June 19, Arceo said that whatever the country’s political situation, the visit by the Pope would still be good for the Filipinos because it would “rekindle their faith” and might even inspire politicians to do their job morally.

“If he visits our country, he will be coming here not as a politician but as a pastor and as a man of God who can inspire both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to be honorable in their everyday deeds,” Arceo said.

Last June 4, in an audience with the Pope at the Vatican, Arroyo invited the 80-year-old pontiff to the Philippines.

But Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz in his blog column last June 11 at the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website, urged the Pope to turn down the invitation papal visit at this time, he said, might give a “a semblance of moral ascendancy for the Arroyo administration” amid allegations of human right abuses against her administration.

The title of the blog column entry was “Do not come, please.”

But Arceo said that the nature of the person inviting the Pope to visit is immaterial.

“Whether invited by the faithful, the politician, or by the bishops, it does not matter. Being a predominantly Christian country in the Far East, the Filipinos would undoubtedly like to see the Pope in person,” Arceo said.

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Referring to the past papal visits to the country by Paul VI and John Paul II, Arceo said Benedict XVI’s presence in the Philippines might be equally inspiring.

“So in the same way, when the current Pope does visit the country, the impact would be more or less the same: inspiring,” Arceo said.

Arceo’s remarks echoed the sentiments of Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, who said in a press statement that the CBCP had, in fact, made an invitation to the Pope last to make a pastoral visit of the Philippines.

The papal visit may be arranged next year when the Pope leads the World Youth Day celebration in Australia.

Isolated cases

Arceo dismissed as “isolated” anti-clerical kidnapping and violence, like the abduction of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, an Italian missionary priest in Mindanao.

“Those are just isolated cases. Unlike other countries where anti-clerical sentiments are high, Filipinos are generally respectfully and loving to priests,” Arceo said.

Bossi was seized by at 10 gunmen, believed to be “breakaway” elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last June 10, while on his way to celebrate Mass in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Bossi, 57, is the 12th Roman Catholic priest to be abducted in Mindanao since 1994.

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