Religion: Putting Words in Pope Francis’ Mouth – By Gideon Lasco

Pope Francis

It was a story that had all the elements of a headline: The unconventional Pope Francis saying something unconventional.

A boy whose dog had just died asked the Pope whether animals go to heaven, and he responded with words that had great doctrinal significance: “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

The remarks caught fire, and very soon there was commentary from all over the world — from activists who took the words as a boon for animal rights to theologians who weighed in on whether animals had souls.

But here’s the rub: Pope Francis never said those words. There was never a boy who asked him that question. It was an urban legend all along, starting with a misquote from an Italian newspaper that started a “journalistic train wreck” that took newspapers worldwide for a ride, with the United Kingdom’s Daily Express even declaring that “all donkeys go to heaven.”    

Eventually, the New York Times editors would admit the error, revising their original report and appending it with a note that they “should have verified the quotations with the Vatican.”

I was reminded of this incident by a passage attributed to Pope Francis that made the rounds in social media. Titled “Being Happy”, it is shared with an image of the Pope and his name under the passage’s concluding lines: “Never give up on the people you love. Never give up from being happy. Because life is an incredible show.”

A quick Internet search, however, reveals that the text is actually an almost-word-for-word translation of a Portuguese text titled “Palco de vida” (Stages of life), attributed to the renowned poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Only the concluding “Life is an incredible show” was changed from the less-exciting “Life is a no-miss obstacle.”

There is an additional twist here: Even the attribution to Pessoa has been dismissed by scholars, citing major differences from his style and the absence of any actual manuscript. They conclude that it was likely a fabrication borne of the Internet, as the Brazilian blogger who may have been the source of the last three phrases muses in his blog:

Apparently, the phrases took a life of their own and spread throughout the Portuguese-speaking Internet with variations in scoring and attribution of authorship. Then someone decided to take a poem… paste such a small piece at the end and distribute everything as if it were the work of Fernando Pessoa. It did not take long for my three phrases to start being attributed to the Portuguese poet – after all, it is always nice to quote a famous Portuguese writer instead of an almost unknown Brazilian blogger.

Fast-forward to September 2015. The Facebook page of a “Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle and Mary, Mother of the Church” — a Kenya-based Catholic group — shared the same passage in English, attributing it, in what appears to be the first such attribution, to Pope Francis. Given Filipinos’ entrenchment in social media and our collective fondness for the Pope, it did not take long for someone to share it, and the rest is history.

A similar, albeit somewhat counter-point, episode is the Pope’s supposed reaction to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s “cursing” him. He was “quoted” as saying:

“I was amazed by the fact that a politician who is aiming at the highest position could be this honest. It was a first encounter for me to see a politician being honest about his concerns for his country other than kissing my hands for the sole purpose of getting the support of the majority of the Catholic population.”

Despite its origins from a satirical website (NEWSPH), which said it was a “fictional interview”, people shared it on Facebook anyway, with the Pope’s image appearing as a meme with what he supposedly said.

* * *

To Pope Francis’ credit various passages and remarks are ascribed to him. After all, apocryphal sayings are a mark of fame. Jose Rizal, too, received the same distinction when we gifted him with the adage “Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salitâ/ Mahigit sa hayop at malansáng isdâ” (One who does not treasure his own language/ is worse than an animal and putrid fish) and the entire poem, “Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” that bears those lines.

Historian Ambeth Ocampo points out that Rizal couldn’t have used the word “kalayaan” (liberty) in the poem, which he supposedly wrote at age 8, as he first encountered it when he was already in his 20s. This and other compelling arguments notwithstanding, Rizal continues to be regarded as the poem’s author.

Perhaps Herminigildo Cruz, the poet who first published the supposed Rizal poem, wanted to popularize it by ascribing it to the national hero; as his own work would never make it as required reading for schoolchildren. Similarly, it is unlikely that the words of a Portuguese poet — or a Brazilian blogger — would go viral. It required the imagined authorship of a revered Pope Francis for the piece to be read, appreciated, and shared.

But all these fake sayings say more about us than of the people to whom we attribute them. They speak of how, in the quest for virality, factualness is sacrificed for immediacy, sometimes with dire consequences for the persons involved. It also speaks of the uncritical acceptance by people of online information.

While these sayings may come in the form of innocent, feel-good phrases, we must not fail to see through them the dangers of our social-media age, when all you need is a face and a phrase to put words into someone’s mouth — and be believed by a multitude.

— Gideon Lasco – Philippine Daily Inquirer 

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 10, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Gideon Lasco, wrote a few years ago in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

    I was reminded of a passage attributed to Pope Francis that made the rounds in social media. Titled “Being Happy”, it is shared with an image of the Pope and his name under the passage’s concluding lines:

    “Never give up on the people you love. Never give up from being happy. Because life is an incredible show.”

    A quick Internet search, however, revealed that the text is actually an almost-word-for-word translation of a Portuguese text titled “Palco de vida” (Stages of life), attributed to the renowned poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935).

    Only the concluding “Life is an incredible show” was changed from the less-exciting “Life is a no-miss obstacle.”

    I will share this one with caveat emptor – this one has been translated to English – probably amended along the way and circulated on the internet for a while – BUT, it is a good inspirational start to 2019, I believe:

    Be Happy

    You can have flaws, be anxious, and even be angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you.

    Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without disappointments.

    To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord.

    It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness.

    It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures.

    It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity.

    Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves.

    To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim – allowing your past to be your jailer – and become your destiny’s author.

    It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul.

    It is to thank God for every morning – for the miracle of life.

    Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings.

    It is to be able to talk about you.

    It is having the courage to hear a “no”.

    It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified.

    It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us.

    To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple.

    It is to have maturity to be able to say: “I made mistakes”.

    It is to have the courage to say “I am sorry”.

    It is to have the sensitivity to say, “I need you”.

    It is to have the ability to say “I love you”.

    May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness …

    That in spring may it be a lover of joy. In winter a lover of wisdom. And when you make a mistake, start all over again.

    For only then will you be in love with life.

    You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life.

    But use the tears to irrigate tolerance.

    Use your losses to train patience.

    Use your mistakes to sculptor serenity.

    Use pain to plaster pleasure.

    Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.

    Never give up …. Never give up on people who love you.

    Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show [a no-miss obstacle]

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