What a festive five-day papal visit it has been! The rapturous welcome Pope Francis was given was simply characteristic of the Filipinos’ well-recognized hospitality and warmth. Despite the long wait and downpour, millions stayed on to attend the Mass in Tacloban and Luneta, or line up along the roads wherever Pope Francis’ motorcade would pass. What a sight it was to have every street corner and sidewalk filled to the brim with people of all ages and sizes that even a hard-hearted person would have been moved to tears with these images.
Interestingly, not one soul carped or whined about the downpour, the mile-long walks or the long wait in Manila and Tacloban. The frenzy and jubilation was so palpable as cheers echoed from the hordes lined up from one end of the street to the next as the Pope mobile wheezed by. This same scene repeated itself over and over again. Yet, as soon as the Pope mobile drove off, hordes dispersed peacefully, with smiles on their faces, expressions of joy apparent for everyone to see. It was a euphoric moment for many Catholics last weekend. Everyone took whatever photo or video they could to remember how profound the moment was. Each one who caught a glimpse of the Pope, no matter how near or far had a personal story to tell. For some very lucky ones, they did get close enough to the Pope and even hold his hand.
It was a revelation though to see how so many children and adolescents joined in the festivities themselves. Even more surprising was the candid comments from our own teenaged children, nieces and nephews, who perceive the Pope as a man they could relate to—a “rock star Pope” in their words. Aside from wearing hip sneakers and carrying his own satchel, Pope Francis is unexpectedly someone so many young Catholics can now relate to so easily. From his manifest humility and abounding presence on social media, the Pope has influenced the lives of so many young people who otherwise would have been uncaring about religion.
From his good humor and natural candor, my nieces even find the Pope’s smiles and expressions “cute”—a description one wouldn’t even have contemplated to say about a Pope in the past. Perhaps, seeing Pope Francis so close last weekend has made so many of the young realize the influence and charisma the leader of a billion Catholics exudes. My family and I felt so consoled that our own children themselves now understand how we were moved too by the visits of Pope John Paul 2nd many decades back. For certain, their impressions of Pope Francis of last weekend will last them a lifetime as ours have had.
The characteristic festive manner by which we Filipino Catholics celebrate faith is perhaps what has long made the Catholic religion thrive amongst so many of us. In unique ways, Filipinos live their faith in personal and collective ways. Most valued family and personal recollections and milestones in life are celebrated in faith. From weddings, baptisms, confirmation, Christmas Day, Easter and New Year, faith brings families together and give them every reason to celebrate in such festal ways.
The Pope’s visit has reminded us all about hope, compassion, mercy, abiding faith, and family. And for one weekend this January, at least, we all saw how the young and old, the have and have-nots, the strong and weak, can come together peacefully and celebrate in a common faith.