Of the myriad images, high points, and moving words that marked Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the Philippines, there are so many compelling things to highlight and write about , yet the extraordinary event itself gives me pause from immediately focusing on one point and firing away.
I thought it might be fruitful if I allow the afterglow to just wash over me, never mind the chatter and brickbats in the media, because maybe then I might stumble on something significant and cheering.
I will bask in our huge sense of relief that the entire visit transpired and concluded without any major incident or mishap, beyond the tragic death of one pilgrim volunteer in Leyte and the intrusion of a storm in the pope’s schedule.
No state guest, no star comes close to emitting the same incandescence and charisma as Pope Francis. No one commands the same level of gravitas that he projects.
A leader like pope francis is not to be judged by standards we normally apply to ordinary heads of state and heads of government, including president obama.
This must remain
If a papal visit can be compared to to a piece of music, art or literature, what Pope Francis conjured among us – with the help of the Vatican and the local church and our government — was nothing less than a masterwork.
The Pope’s program was well-crafted and unerring in its choice of activities, the homilies and messages he delivered were poignant and stirring, the selection of people to interact with him was generous and imaginative; the security arrangements – for all the talk of a nightmare– were effective; the effect on the Filipino people was nothing less than magical and inspiring. The holy father himself looked visibly pleased and inspired as this masterpiece was playing out in our country.
Watching it all unfold, I thought of a wonderful line from Peter Schaffer’s play, Amadeus, his great drama about the life and genius of wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The line reads: “Whatever else shall pass away, this must remain.”
Of Pope Francis’s visit, I believe I can say this: Whatever else may pass away in my lifetime, I know that the memory of this visit will remain for years and years to come.
This visit will take its place in the annals of this nation, occupying an honored place as revered as those reserved for other great events in our history.
His homily at mass for Yolanda/Haiyan victims and survivors in leyte will become anthologized as one of the world’s great speeches. And the words “I may be a little late, but I am here for you; the lord will not let you down,” are destined to be as often quoted and recalled as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s pledge “I shall return”, which was coincidentally redeemed in the same place where he was celebrating the Holy Mass.
The image of the 12-year-old girl breaking into tears while addresssing the Holy father, and he in turn embracing and blessing her, will be reproduced over and over in various media.
The record numbers who thronged to Rizal Park for the Pope’s culminating mass during his visit, will be cited and recited in innumerable reports and accounts as a benchmark for papal events in the future. It was the biggest crowd for a papal mass in history.
A new beginning
Those who hoped for the papal visit to become a transformational event for our people and our country must find it in the words and messages that he delivered in his homilies. There were many, each one pregnant with meaning.
The one message that was constant throughout the papal journey, was his message to our people—our families, our youth, our leaders – that we are called to take the lead in bringing Christ’s gospel to the lands and peoples of Asia. Because Asia is the future of the church. Asia will be the crucible of our faith in this century.
In Leyte, he said to yolanda survivors and victims’ families:
“Filipino culture has, in fact, been shaped by the imagination of faith. Filipinos everywhere are known for their love of God, their fervent piety and their warm devotion to Our Lady and her rosary. This great heritage contains a powerful missionary potential. It is the way in which your people has inculturated the Gospel and continues to embrace its message (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 122). In your efforts to prepare for the fifth centenary, build on this solid foundation.”
In another homily,he seemed to outline the essential elements for a new beginning for our people and our country beyond the trials we face today:
“Like a family, every society draws on its deepest resources in order to face new challenges. Today the Philippines, together with many other countries in Asia, faces the challenge of building on solid foundations a modern society – a society respectful of authentic human values, protective of our Godgiven human dignity and rights, and ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions.
“As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country. Thus will they be able to marshall the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. Essential to the attainment of these national goals is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity.”
No words could be more fitting. No words were more needed by our country now.
The sun came out yesterday
As if to punctuate the conclusion of a successful and memorable journey, the sun came out for Pope Francis’s departure yesterday, after several days of rain.
It affirmed what we have always known in our island world: the great paradox of nature restoring and renewing itself.
In this paradox, we are given the gift of clarity.
We see a deeper truth.
Nature gives us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the ground of our being.
It is a harbinger of larger life to come.