This post chronicles our ten hours of being with the people last Friday, 16 January – the second day of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines and officially the start of his official itinerary during his Apostolic and State Visit to the Philippines. (State — because, FYI — Pope Francis is the head of state of the Vatican).
The moment we saw the Sri Lankan plane carrying Pope Francis touch down at the Villamor Airbase, I was already determined to see Pope Francis in the flesh – how, I have no idea. I have no connections, no contacts, and the only person I know who is remotely religious is my own mother whose Legion of Mary group ran out of luck and never got to picked for the “Meeting with Families” in SM MOA Arena. I told my mom (half-seriously), “of all the times when I was hoping your swift connection to the heavens would be of help to me, only to be disappointed…”
My opportunity came in the form of an invitation to one of my company’s branding partners. We were invited to do a medical mission program for the people who will be waiting for the Pope’s motorcade on his way to the Manila Cathedral. We were to give free blood pressure check, free medical consultation and basic medicines to the faithful. We were not given IDs and instead were provided instructions to set up at the gasoline station a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral and fronting the motorcade route by 7AM.
The assignment was easy enough, but getting to Manila Cathedral was another story: all roads leading to Anda Circle was closed to traffic and we were (kindly) informed by one of the police that we will have to walk distance of about 10 kilometers to our destination. While carrying heavy steel posts, tent awning, tables and chairs for the set-up. Good thing a tip from MMDA informed us to take the road leading to Delpan Bridge, which allowed us to park very near the motorcade route.
Soon, we were taking BPs and dispensing medicines to the faithful. Fatigue, hunger and the weird weather were already taking effect to the many people lined up the streets leading to Manila Cathedral. Until finally, at around 9AM people started becoming restless, cheering loudly and shrieking like there’s no tomorrow whenever the Pope was shown on the live feed beamed to the large LCD screen stationed near us. When the pope was shown climbing to the white Pope Mobile from Malacanang — everyone started screaming their heads off. The excitement, the kilig, the adrenaline, the pure feeling of being awestruck — same things you expect to see or feel when attending your favorite 1D/KPop/Incubus/Pop artist was thick and heavy in the air. Soon, everyone was rushing and pushing to the front of the street and with just a few maneuvering, I found myself standing right in front of the many policemen assigned to the streets and in full viewing distance of the incoming Pontiff. Getting to the spot was not easy and involved a lot of pushing (from the police who was only doing their job) and a lot of people trying to worm their way to your front, pushing you and pulling constantly. And to think I hated sharing personal space with strangers!
The prime location afforded me the chance to see Pope Francis:
I never was a religious person, but my faith and belief in God became more evident when I saw him. People screaming their heads off, kids being thrust forward or babies being lifted to receive his blessings. During the time he was here–people were cooler, more tolerant of their neighbors and there was discipline in the streets. The roads were filled with people but the garbages weren’t anywhere. People actually looked out for each other.
After the Pope passed by, everyone dispersed to the direction of the church to hear mass. These same crowd will line up again for another motorcade which happened after the mass. The mass itself is a revelation. Imagine throngs of people all standing in attention –a mixture of the rich and the poor; men and women and the LGBT community; those who have more than enough and those with barely enough to get by. I know there’s a lot of things that is wrong with my country (corrupt politicians on top of the list) but our faith has a way of uniting us as one (that, and a Manny Pacquiao boxing match). One of my favorite scenes of that day is a barefooted man with his son, sitting in front while listening to the mass.
Many people has already written about this — but seeing the Pope in the flesh was like being blessed. His smile endeared him closer to many Filipinos. Throughout his four day stay, he never showed any signs of being tired, in spite the grueling schedule, in spite the maddening weather. I guess he was getting his strength from the huge show of support and love of Filipinos.
We were lucky to have seen another Pope twenty years after we attended the World Youth Day in Manila. While I am at the crossroads of my life right now, I take comfort on my faith. I know of people who literally followed the Pope everywhere (except Tacloban) and got the chance to see him more than three times, but in my own way — this 10 hours is my way of coming to terms with my faith. I may not be the number one cheerleader of the Catholic Church, but I do know that (other than St. John Paul II), there is no other Pope who inspired people with his humility, warmth and openness than Pope Francis.
There is a post-script to this.
Two days after, I was staying at my in-laws’ house which was along the way to the University of Sto. Tomas, site of Pope Francis’ Meeting with the Youth. I stayed indoors when Pope Francis passed by on his way to the university, but decided to step out after I saw people running from all directions just to get a spot on the highway where the pope will again pass by after UST. This time, I am a bit far from the front but a prime spot with an unhindered view allowed me to see the pope for the second time. This time, he was looking in our direction while waving and smiling to the cheering crowds drenched by rain. I was tempted to capture the moment with my phone, but realized that there are moments that is best viewed through my eyes and not through the screen of my phone.