Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, accompanies Pope Francis who is driven on a golf cart along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York on Sept. 25, 2015.  (Screen grab from CNS)


AT every city where he held masses recently during his recent U.S. visits  — in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia — Pope Francis always concluded with a plea: “Don’t forget to pray for me.”

For which Timothy Cardinal Dolan has a ready reply after the mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “We do pray for you, that’s why you are here,” to the delight and uproar of the congregations.

And then Cardinal Dolan reminded him jokingly, “Once you pass through that church door, you are officially a New Yorker.”

Pope Francis, who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is my choice for Person of the Year, as well as, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Not only is he the embodiment of what is good and just, he, also epitomizes our noble aspirations of a better world — of persons and nations as belonging to one another.

The world knows him for his humility, for his concern for the poor and immigrants, his opposition to global warming, and wicked materialism.

It is to his credit that the full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba was restored.

It is no surprise then that his first stop prior to going to U.S. mainland is in Havana, Cuba.

He also condemned the persecutions of religious minorities in Iraq, including some Christian victims.

Early last January 2015, he went to the Philippines to offer his prayers and consolation to the many victims of Typhoon Yolanda in Leyte.

Some 6 million Filipinos braved the steady downpour of the rain to be able to attend his outdoor mass.

In one anecdote that I had read, it was reported that when Pope Francis went to Kenya, he was met with dignitaries along with some 40 elephants.

When he subsequently visited the Philippines later on, he was met by 40 Jesuit priests in plain white clergy robe.

When asked what was the difference, he answered, “The elephants were nicely dressed.”

He likes the simple things and none of the pomposity that sometimes was required by tradition.

He would rather take a taxi instead of the limousine.

“Fear not the immigrants,” he told the joint session of U.S. Congress. We were all once were.”

It amazes me why he would implore us to pray for him.

He holds the title as ex-officio Bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Vatican City, a successor to St. Peter — the first Pope, and leader of 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.

And yet, he would implore me, a sinner and thousands of the other faithful, “not to forget to pray for him.”

Such humility is an endearing quality of him that is so heartwarming to the heart and uplifting to the soul.

The former Argentine priest, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected Cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, and was then elected successor to Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28, 2013 following his resignation.

The 266th Pope is the first Jesuit Pope, the first from South America and the first non-European since the year 741 A.D.

In an interview two years ago, answering a question about homosexuals, the Pontiff answered, “If someone is gay and searching for the Lord and good will, then, who am I to judge him?”

One funny incident that I saw in the TV coverage of the parade in Philadelphia was about a little baby dressed up like a baby pope complete with the traditional head gear.

Pope Francis asked the security people to bring to him the baby, then, gave him his blessing, adding, “The parents have a grand sense of humor.”

Some of the tweets that I read: “I am not Catholic, but this Pope fills my heart with love and compassion.” (H. Norcoss).

“As a former Catholic, now Agnostic, if anyone can rebuild the Catholic faith, it is Pope Francis.” (S. Oakman).

In another story, according to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Register dated 5/22/15, Cardinal Luis Tagle, of the Philippines was often cited as possible successor to Pope Francis.

He was quoted “...to embrace and live out the (Vatican) Council’s sense of openness to the modern world.”

A native of Parañaque, Rizal, where he graduated valedictorian in both elementary and high schools, he also gained his Doctorate Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of America, summa cum laude.

According to John Allen, Jr., associate editor of the Crux, covering the Vatican, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, already dubbed as the Asian Francis, is cited as the favorite to be the next pope, giving him 11/2 odds.

Last May 2015, he was elected to be the head of the Caritas Internationalis, a global federation of Catholic charities.

Building a “poor church for the poor” is the motto of the Francis era, and from his perch at Caritas Internationalis, Tagle is now poised to become one of the most influential architects of that push after the Pontiff himself.

Pope Francis, on his way to JFK Airport going to Philadelphia, he asked the helicopter pilot to make a go-around the Statue of Liberty — the landmark that symbolizes the welcoming hands of the United States.

In Philadelphia, he said: “I asked you not to forget that like those who came before you, you bring many gifts to this nation. You should not be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”

Thank you, Pope Francis, for your visit, and for your love.

Yes, we will continually pray for you.

But may we also ask, Papa Francis, don’t forget to always BLESS us.

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