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January 23, 2015

"Papa Francisco! Mahal ng Pilipino!": Papal Visit 2015

By the time Cardinal Bergoglio, or Father Jorge as he would like to be called, assumed the Papacy, becoming therefore the new successor to the seat of Saint Peter the first Pope, the whole Catholic Church and indeed the whole world was set ablaze. Pope Francis is indeed a breath of fresh air for modern-day society, a new role model for humility and openness. I was hoping then that he would eventually decide to visit the Philippines considering what we have been through in the past 2 years.

When the good news came that he would finally make his first visit to the country, I was thrilled! Now here is a chance to see Pope Francis who definitely would invigorate the Catholic Christians in The Philippines with his meekness, straightforwardness and passion for the poor. After witnessing for 5 days his Apostolic Visit, Pope Francis did not disappoint. 

Weeks before the visit, I was already calling for people at my workplace, trying to form a contingent of pilgrims who will attend the final Papal Mass at the Rizal Park. It was projected to be the biggest Papal Mass yet, surpassing the World Youth Day Mass of Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint, at the exact place 20 years ago. I was part of that 4 milliong strong. Now, I would become part of another history-in-the-making.

With a small group of colleagues, we set off for the Papal Mass at around 4am, walking from Pablo Ocampo street all the way to Kalaw where thousands were already waiting for the entrance at Maria Oropesa street to open. The gates did open at around a little over past six and the group navigates ourselves all the way to the Luneta grounds. Thousands were already filling up the area, waiting in the cold for the Mass scheduled in the afternoon. 

The crowd was so thick but we still continued finding our way through. The objective was to find a good spot closer to the Quirino Grandstand. Many pilgrims were already going back from the front, telling us that it was already too crowded but we were not discouraged. We still pushed ourselves, walking our way past the Rizal Monument, eventually able to cross Roxas Boulevard and then finding ourselves walking up the steps towards the Quirino Grandstand grounds. We then meandered along with the rest of the crowd until we were able to convince a Quadrant guard to open up the quadrant entrance so we can sit inside for a better vantage point. 

Finally! After 5 hours of walking and standing up, we were able to get a good spot. Then it started to rain. Wearing our rain coats and plastic bags over our heads, we waited patiently for the Mass, getting updates through huge LED screens from what was happening in UST Campus where the Pope was supposedly having an assembly with young people.

We brought nothing except some bread, puto and candies for lunch. By the time it was 2 pm, all of us were excited. There was a chance that the Pope would pass by our area either before the Mass or after the Mass. Security personnel were already lining up the corridor. While the whole crowd was practicing our Sinulog dance steps, we were also monitoring the movements from Taft Avenue where the Apostolic Nunciature, the Papal residence, is. And when we heard that the Pope was leaving thr Nunciature, we all watched the LED screens. Millions of peole lined up to see the Pope, in a yellow poncho, heading for Quirino Grandstand. The entire road leading all the way to the area was filled with people. Unbelivable! Millions! 

And when he arrived, we were so lucky to be in the right place. He passed by our quadrant so we were able to get a good view of Pope Francis. We then participated in the mass. The biggest highlight of the mass was when everyone lighted their candles and sang "Tell The World Of His Love", the theme of the World Youth Day in Manila of 1995. It was very emotional, especially for me being a former delegate to the WYD. 

Before leaving the grounds, the Pope made another trip around the area and again decided to take the same route, so we saw him twice that day! 

The mass ended at around 5pm. We then walked back home to Pablo Ocampo, tired, wet and hungry,  but filled with so much emotion we could no longer recall how tired and hungry we were. 

It was definitely an experience to remember. The biggest challenge now is how to live out the message of Pope Francis. He reminded us that no matter how difficult life is, "Jesus will never let you down." And so we echo the words of Cardinal Tagle, that we will go to the peripheries especially in our work of helping communities achieve better health outcomes for the poor. 

Thank you Pope Francis for your commisioning and reminder and affirmation of our missionary role as Fiipinos. 

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