THE apostolic journey of Pope Francis to our beloved Philippines in 2015 rekindles memories of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1995 to Manila, as well as my two pilgrimages to the Vatican in Rome in 1979 and 1989 during my much younger days.
While the late Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pontiff, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected in a papal conclave by the cardinals. The Polish Pope known as Karl Wojtyla held office for almost three decades (1978 – 2005) that brought dramatic changes to the Catholic Church. However, the new Pope from Argentina is now doing the same at such scale, but over a short period of two years. He has a sense of urgency!
I am simply amazed and awed with what the first Pope from not only Latin America, but the entire Americas, has said and is doing now from his severe criticisms of the Roman Curia to other major global issues. The Curia at the Vatican is the “administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body through which the Supreme Pontiff conducts the business of the entire Catholic Church.” (Wikipedia)
One Catholic priest interviewed said that the Pope is not only changing the Church, but now also changing the world with his “radical” views that are most welcome.
With Pope Francis, it appears that nothing is a coincidence; things happen for a purpose. In February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) surprised the world when he announced his resignation or early retirement. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, was not an early favourite as the other cardinals. Yet he was later elected due to the belief of the cardinals that a Jesuit priest can make the necessary reforms in the Church.
One thing that I share with the Pontiff is our great admiration for Saint Francis of Assisi. I have always admired St. Francis since I saw the movie Brother Sun and Sister Moon during Holy week in the mid-1970s. The founder of the Franciscan Order has become my source of inspiration in sharing my time, talents and treasure to others.
Thus, Pope Francis is known for his genuine simplicity and humility. When he became Pope, he adopted a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by opting to live in the guesthouse named Domus Sanctae Marthae (Latin for St. Martha’s House) rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors as the official residence of the Pope.
In his public life, both as an individual and as a religious leader, Pope Francis has his concern for the poor, the victims of disasters and the exploited. This explains why he has chosen to visit the survivors of super-typhoon Yolanda today in Leyte, particularly Tacloban and Palo outside the provincial capital. It was made clear that the Pope would only want to meet the affected families and not the politicians and rich people.
The Supreme Pontiff has emphasized the Christian obligation to assist the poor and the needy. Hence, the Pope will meet today the survivors of natural disasters that include the earthquake in Bohol that preceded the super-storm in Leyte and Samar. No less than the United Nations (UN) has taken cognizance of the papal lunch with the 30 survivors.
Joyful welcome & overwhelming emotions
The entire country was at a standstill yesterday late afternoon and early evening upon the arrival of Pope Francis. Millions of Filipinos and foreigners alike watched the live television coverage of the arrival of the charismatic Pontiff. Tens of millions lined up the streets along the route of the 11-km motorcade from Villamor Air Base to the Apostolic Nunciature at Taft Avenue in Manila near Quirino Avenue.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday reported a “joyous welcome” was made by a dance performance of 158 school-girls and boys who swayed to the tune of “Sayaw ng Pagbati” (Dance of Welcome). Parañaque Bishop Jesse Mercado said that “it is a grand welcome to Christ who is represented to us in the person of the Pope.” He remarked earlier that “we are a people of joy and the best way to show the joy is we sing and dance.”
A common experience among those who waited for hours along the route of the motorcade was the feeling of being blessed even with “just” a glimpse of the Pope. There was the “overwhelming emotion of blessedness” felt by those who saw him. A woman who was accompanied by her daughter and two grandchildren exclaimed: “I am filled with inexplicable joy and gratitude.” She also saw Pope John Paul II in 1981 in Davao.
The presence of the Pope is truly a blessing. “It is an overwhelming feeling seeing the Holy Father,” said a lady lawyer who hugged her two kids tightly afterwards. A software engineer exclaimed that “the aura was different; I was moved. Of course, it was the Vicar of Christ in front of me.” Even those who saw Pope Francis from a distance was touched by him. This was the experience of my own wife with Pope John Paul II in 1995.
Goose bumps were felt by the myriad of those who caught sight of the Pontiff. An overseas Filipino (OFW) working in Canada, who spent the whole day waiting, felt overwhelmed seeing the Pope for the first time. “I feel it’s a huge blessing; I am having goose bumps.” A radio reporter was also affected and shared what he felt: “It was a hair-raising experience; I felt my hair stand on end.”
The applause and cheering of the huge crowd truly says it all. The crowds, including the policemen and soldiers deployed were “cheering the Pope with gusto and much fervor,” said a colonel involved in the security arrangements. A total of 50,000 personnel from the Philipine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were deployed to secure the Pope’s safety.
Hope & message of the Papal visit
It is with great hope that the charism of Pope Francis will touch our people, especially those in power, so we can work together to make our country – the only one we’ve got ! – a better place to live so there will be much less abject poverty in our land. This also means Less Filipinos working overseas and separated from their loved ones.
Fr. Francis Lucas, executive-director of the Catholic Media Network of the CBCP, was interviewed at ANC on the night of the Pope’s arrival He said that the Pope would like to show the “real, original Christ.” In another TV interview in November last year, Fr. Lucas said the message of the Pope’s visit is on “Mercy & Compassion.”
The statement of Fr. Lucas is consistent with the message that has been said by Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and Bataan Archbishop Socrates Villegas that Pope Francis wants that the focus of his visit to the Philippines is Jesus Christ—and not himself since he is “only” the representative of Christ. That is also Humility at work !