Catholic News Service photo
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, gestures during a press conference at the Pope Pius XII Center in Manila July 7. The archbishop reiterated a call to be more like Pope Francis as the Philippines prepares for the pontiff's upcoming visit.
Catholic News Service photo
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, gestures during a press conference at the Pope Pius XII Center in Manila July 7. The archbishop reiterated a call to be more like Pope Francis as the Philippines prepares for the pontiff's upcoming visit.
MANILA, Philippines — The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines reiterated a call to be more like Pope Francis as the Asian country prepares for the pontiff's upcoming visit.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, conference president, said in a pastoral letter that the Philippines should adopt the pope's guiding motto "Miserando atque eligendo," a Latin phrase that literally means "by having mercy, by choosing him."

The conference released the letter to serve as a guide for the faithful's "spiritual preparation" for Pope Francis' arrival in January. Archbishop Villegas implored Catholics to place mercy at the center of these spiritual preparations.

"Let us make mercy our national identity," he said in the four-page letter. "Trust in God's mercy is part and parcel of our traditional Filipino Christian culture."

During a briefing with reporters in Manila, Archbishop Villegas and other prelates, including Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, also addressed how spiritual preparations for the pope's visit can be practiced while one of the biggest political corruption scandals to rock the Philippines plays out.

Archbishop Villegas said: "It is very easy to point the finger at people (accused of corruption) for their crimes, for their sins. But it takes a lot of courage and honesty to be able to say, 'I also have a remnant of  that disposition that I carry in my soul.' So maybe it is time for individual soul-searching and to purify our consciences, attitudes and dispositions."

Prominent lawmakers have been charged with plunder for a scheme in which they received kickbacks after allegedly allocating money to bogus nongovernmental agencies. The $230 million scam opened the door to scrutiny of another funding program created by President Benigno Aquino's budget officials. It allows for unspent funds to be released immediately for public projects. In early July, the Philippine Supreme Court found parts of the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program to be unconstitutional.

Cardinal Tagle said practicing honesty would help, especially as part of the bishops' 2014 "Year of the Laity," which has a goal of bringing Jesus' teachings to the secular world.

"In the workplace, in business, in politics, in schools, in the families, hopefully a culture of integrity with some criteria to be observed could be embedded in us," said Cardinal Tagle.

In a speech during the Philippine bishops' July 5-7 plenary meeting, Archbishop Villegas said if the church leaders wanted to "walk in cadence with Pope Francis," then it was time to "reconsider our approach at solving the cancer of Philippine society, which is graft and corruption, by talking more about the beauty of integrity and honesty rather constantly denouncing the evil that we experience."

The archbishop said Pope Francis has steadily led the church "from being a dogmatic, self-engrossed and authoritative sick institution to being a gentle, outreaching, compassionate and persuasive church through the power of love and mercy."

Cardinal Tagle said Vatican officials were visiting the typhoon-ravaged province of in early July in preparation for the pope's visit in January. He said he expected to receive word of a definite schedule of the visit by early August.