Pope Francis accepts a card from Filipino reporter Lynda Jumilla Abalos of ABSCBN television while greeting media aboard the papal flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 12. The card was made by the children of the journalist to welcome the pope to the Philippines. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Filipino Catholic media already planning follow-up to papal visit

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • January 14, 2015

MANILA, Philippines - Long before Pope Francis left the Vatican for his January trip to Asia, Jesuit Father Emmanuel "Nono" Alfonso and his colleagues were already working on the "what's next" part of hosting a papal trip.

As the visit approached, the executive director of the Manila-based Jesuit Communications and his colleagues at other Filipino Catholic media offices were juggling concern for the immediate future -- the Pope's visit Jan. 15-19 -- with planning the follow-up: how to help Filipinos reflect on the experience and increasingly practice "mercy and compassion," the theme of the visit.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, dividing up the tasks associated with a papal visit, assigned JesCom -- as it's known -- the role of coordinating a group of Catholic media in documenting the visit. The idea is to have video crews at every papal event and release a documentary within three weeks of the visit's conclusion.

Speaking to Catholic News Service Jan. 12, just three days before the Pope's arrival, Father Nono seemed calm. He claimed it is the result of practice; "we're used to panicking."

He had just come from a meeting where he was told that portions of his team's plan for documenting the papal events have been rejected by government security advisers.

"So, that's a tension point now," he said.

Dealing with the tight security means the planning involves plenty of "back to the drawing board," which is a white board in this case; it features diagrams of the papal Mass sites and lists of who is responsible for filming, producing and editing.

The documentary will be a historic record, Father Nono said, but it should also help people "put the visit in perspective" once the Pope leaves. "People will be reflecting" by the time the video comes out and, he realizes, "already some will be cynical."

The Jesuit quoted Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila saying that what comes next "will depend on us, not the Pope. The Pope will give us his message; he will challenge us. But, of course, it depends on the receiver of the message and the challenges."

On a much smaller scale, the visit already has had a positive impact, the priest said. This is the first time the various Catholic outlets have worked together on one project.

"We're building church as we document the church," he said.

The bishops' conference is funding the documentary, he said, "of course on a shoestring budget." The crews that went to Tacloban, where the Pope will meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, had to pay for their own meals and lodging, although their airfare was covered.

"You'd be surprised, people are very generous," he said.

Just 10 days before Pope Francis was schedule to arrive, JesCom released a CD, "Mercy and Compassion: Songs for Pope Francis." It fit with the foundation's original aim of providing "music for the church," Father Nono said.

The Jesuit asked Catholic choirs and composers to submit song ideas for the album; 10 new compositions were chosen, as well as two other songs. Aia De Leon, a pop star and former lead singer for the band Imago, sings the title track, "Mercy and Compassion." Cardinal Tagle sings "Sanlibong Buhay" ("A Thousand Lives"), a piece inspired by St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint. The martyr is quoted as saying, "If I had a thousand lives, I'd give them all to Christ."

The cardinal and the Pope "are very good friends, so the Pope will love it to find Cardinal Chito there," Father Nono said, using the cardinal's nickname, as many people do.

The CD is a gift for the Pope and part of JesCom's ministry, the priest said. It was released much too late to be used as a papal-trip fundraiser.

The communications foundation began as a publisher and distributor of liturgical music composed for the church in the Philippines. It continues that mission today, although it has expanded to produce television programs and documentaries and radio shows. It also runs "The Garage," a school that helps Catholic leaders and organizations become media savvy. As part of that, they run a homiletics workshop at the Loyola School of Theology, also on the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University.

Cardinal Tagle, besides singing, is also host of JesCom's most popular television program, "The Word Exposed." Each week, the cardinal reflects on the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday; the program is broadcast on mainstream television in the Philippines, posted on YouTube and sold on DVDs.

Another popular project run by JesCom is "Jesuit Covers." The 43-year-old Father Nono said his research -- including hours surfing YouTube -- made it clear that Filipino young people listen to music, watch music videos and express themselves through music. "That's how these covers came about."

The "Jesuit Covers" series features Philippine pop stars singing religious music and talented Catholic youth singing cover versions of pop songs.

While many Catholic media focus on building up the faith of Catholics, "our aim is to go mainstream, not to preach to the choir," Father Nono said.

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