Monday, January 19, 2015

My Personal Recap of POPE FRANCIS IN MANILA: Days of Mercy and Compassion

January 19, 2015

Our country the Philippines is the only majorly Catholic country in the whole of Asia. Despite this, only two Popes had visited us. The first was Pope Paul VI in 1970. The next two Papal visits were by the same long-serving Pope, Pope (now St.) John Paul II. 

Pope John Paul II came here in 1981 and again in 1995. I was a fan of this Pope. I remember following his life and career back then. I even had a scrapbook about newspaper articles about him, and all about his first visit here. Sadly, I have no idea where that scrapbook is now. I had no idea how to access any of his events back then as a young student. However, I was able to see him on the street in the Malacanang Palace area. In 1995, he came again as part of World Youth Day celebrations. He was already much older and weaker. I saw him again on the street in the Malacanang area again.


Now its 2015, 20 years later. We finally have another Papal visit. The current Pontiff, Pope Francis, visits the Philippines for five days. As days approached his arrival, I had no idea where and how I will go see him. The security precautions for this Papal visit were so much more stringent compared to the 1995 visit. Here is a summary of his schedule:

DAY 1: 

On the morning of the Pope's arrival January 15, I was still at work when I suddenly gathered guts to call my high school classmate who lived in the San Miguel area and asked him if I could stay overnight at his place. Fortunately, he accepted my request. I went to meet him at his place of work via LRT and went to his home with him. There was a directive that only residents of the San Miguel area will be allowed to be in the secured area the next day. So therefore, thanks to my friend, the next day January 16, I was able to see the visiting Pope in person in the Malacanang area yet again. 

Believe me, the Pope was seated beside the apostolic nuncio whom we see in the window. 

DAY 2: 

I actually saw him twice this day. The first one was on his way to Malacanang along JP Rizal St, as his convoy came in from Nagtahan. Unfortunately for all us waiting, he was not on his Popemobile, but only in a black Volkswagen sedan. We were doubly unlucky because the Pope was seated on the right side of the back seat, and all of us were only allowed to stand and wait on the right side of the road! So all we caught was a fleeting glimpse of the Pope's profile as his car drove by quickly. My phone camera only caught Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto seated beside him. Lucky that my friend's SLR camera caught the Pope's face, albeit in shadow (which he would later enhance). It was explained that he rode a closed vehicle because he was on his way to a state function. He rode Popemobile en route to his duties of a pastoral nature.

Thank you Dennis and Florence Teo for this enhanced photo of that first quick glimpse we had.

I was unsatisfied, so I decided to walk over to the other side of Malacanang Palace, on the corner of Aguado St. near San Miguel Church. There were only four rows of people in front of me so I thought it was a cinch for me to get a better picture here. Unfortunately as the Popemobile drove by, everyone in front of me raised their phones, cameras and iPads! No picture I took caught the Papal face. However, MY EYES AND MY HEART CLEARLY CAUGHT HIS MAGNIFICENT SMILE since he was facing squarely in my direction. I was tired and hungry by the end of that but the joy and exhilaration of seeing the beloved Pope in person and so close carried me through my long walk to my ride home.

Believe me, the Pope is behind that camera in front of me! You can see him on the LCD screen.

From Malacanang, the Pope was driven straight to the Manila Cathedral where he celebrated his first Holy Mass for the Religious community. Later that afternoon, the Pope had a meeting with selected families at the MOA Arena. I was so tired from my activities that morning that I slept the whole afternoon when I got home. I totally missed the live broadcast of those events, and just caught excerpts on the news. 

DAY 3: 

The Pope went to Tacloban on this day when the city was under Signal #2 as Typhoon Amang just had its landfall there in the Eastern seaboard of the Visayas. I had to work that day so I was not able to witness his Mass which was delivered in the airport open air as it rain was pouring with strong winds. The images from that Mass of the pope and the congregation all wearing yellow raincoats were very moving. His day trip, which was supposed to have lasted up to 5 pm, had to be cut short because the plane had to leave by 1 pm because of the bad weather. He humbly apologized profusely as he took his leave.

While the Pope arrived safely back in Manila, there were accidents that happened in the Tacloban airport. The private plane carrying Cabinet officials skidded off the runway because of the strong winds. Luckily, there were no major injuries. Worse, a young female volunteer was killed when a scaffolding with a speaker fell on her head. This would be the one sad event that marred an otherwise positive and successful Papal visit. The Pope would be able to personally commisserate with the distraught father bereaved of his only child.

DAY 4:  

I had wanted to attend the event at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in the morning. However, the gates open at 4 am, but the people were already lining up as early as the night before!  In fact, people were also lining up already for the Luneta Mass event scheduled at 330 pm also as early as the night before. Because of this and the very real threat of rain, I decided to forego going to UST or Luneta already and just watch the proceedings on TV. 

It rained during the UST event. It started with the testimonies from various youths. First up were two ex-street children. The girl could not control her emotions and burst into tears when she asked the Pope why bad things happen to children. A new engineering graduate who volunteered in Tacloban after Yolanda also spoke about the problem of the youth with too much technology and information. 

During his speech, Pope first talked about 27 year-old Kristel Mae Padasas, who lost her life in the Tacloban airport the day before and offered her a moment of silence. Then he deviated from his original prepared speech and delivered a response to the statements of the youths in Spanish. 

The Pope blesses the children who sing for him.

Important lessons learned during the Pope's talk at UST:

"If you don't know how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian!"

"To think. To feel. To do. And we should use these three languages harmoniously."

"You lack only one thing: To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive. To learn how to be evangelized by the poor. Do you know you are poor? This is what you need to serve. To offer your hand out of your own poverty. To learn how to love, and to learn how to be loved."

The event ended with children doing hand gestures to the 1995 World Youth Day anthem "Tell the World of His Love" amazingly sung live by Darren Espanto. With the Pope there holding the children's hands for the entirety of the song, this was a most touching finale.

I'm awed by the multitudes who braved the rain and the cold to attend this special Mass.

The final Mass at 3:30 in the afternoon was a mammoth event. An estimated 6 million people attended that Mass. To think that this was able to happen on a very wet and cold day is nothing short of a miracle. The stage and altar was beautiful. The ritual services celebrating the uniquely Filipino feast of the Sto. Nino (Christ Child) were very solemn. The first reading was remarkably read by a blind girl reading in Braille! 

The homily of the Holy Father was very meaningful as ever. He reminded us the the meaning of sin is that we have forgotten that we are children of God.

Pope Francis listens to the Words of Thanks for him.

The messages of thanks delivered by Archbishop Soc Villegas, president of the CBCP and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Archdiocese of Manila were also very inspiring. Fr. Villegas described the Pope as "typhoon-proof" and called him "our sunshine". Fr. Tagle told the Pope to "send us Filipinos out to spread the light of Christ."

DAY 5: 

Pope leaves by a PAL direct flight to Rome at around 9:30 am. At almost 7:30 am, my dad suddenly wanted to go see Pope Francis one last time. So, the two of us drove out, braved the crowd at Quirino Ave. near Adriatico St., waited for about an hour, and was rewarded with one last final fleeting glimpse as the Pope rode his Popemobile en route to his Shepherd One. 

My Papa is all smiles as he awaits El Santo Papa.

Here is my video of our last Papal encounter. I started recording when the motorcycle escorts passed by. The Pope appears only in the last ten seconds of this short clip. Really a fleeting quick glimpse, but another memory to cherish forever.

By the time we reached the house, the Papal plane had already taken off. He will reach Rome in 14 hours. I pray for him as he has repeatedly asked us to do in all his speeches. I pray for his safety and health. The world needs his charismatic presence and inspiring wisdom. I pray that we, the Catholics of our country, cherish and apply this renewing experience we just had. It has to be lasting and transformative, as the Pope said: in our thoughts, in our feelings and most importantly, in our actions.


  1. Oh no, I can't believe all those people suddenly raised their cameras! You tried your best to get a picture - what an amazing time to remember! Sim @

  2. Pope Francis has been the center of conversation for the past few days. I hope he had a great time here despite the heavy itinerary. At his age, it's amazing that he still has that much energy!

  3. Wow... An emotional experience. I'm personally not a Catholic but I still take an interest in the comings and goings of the Pope! Amazing atmosphere!

  4. His holiness extends the spiritual love even on TV screen. I felt proud and blessed when his hands reached-out for people, a gesture of hope. Thanks for this recap.

  5. Just reading this gives me goosebumps. He is such a blessed man who shares the love of God in everything he does. Amazing! I'm not a Catholic but this pope is my most favorite of all times.

  6. It's good that you got a chance to see influential people in your real life!

  7. You are so lucky you get to see him. He's such an inspirational Pope, and adorable too! He captured my heart with his smile. I managed to watch his mass on tv and went to chruch again after. I feel blessed

  8. I'm not Catholic and I'm not extremely interested in the comings and goings of the Pope, but Pope Francis has really been popping up in conversations with my Filipino colleagues these few days, even though we're living in Singapore!

  9. You were lucky to have several glimpse of the Pope. I admire him for his simplicity and humility and being in touch with the times.

  10. Envious that you got to join everyone else in the Filipinos' encounter with the pope!

  11. oh wow that is a lot of people gathered there! at least you got a few great shots

  12. This was a great report on the Pope's visit to Manila. I felt like I was there with you, hoping for another glimpse of him. He's my favorite Pope! 💖

  13. Wow... I love the upclose pic of Pope. Lucky you. It's such a blessing to your country for being visited.

  14. I hope he would come back again. He as really inspired our country especially those who needed it the most.

  15. The Philippines is really blessed to have been visited by Pope Francis and I hope that after his visit, we, Catholics, really live or do what he expects us to do. I hope that his visit would be fruitful and not some event that we Filipinos just looked forward to and learned nothing.

  16. You're blessed to have seen him in person, but even those who are watching on tv are also blessed by his genuine gestures of kindness and gentleness. His bubbly personality fits the common pinoy trait! People would love to read this, and reminisce their own version of Papal encounter! :-)

  17. Envy you. You are blessed to have seen the Pope in person. Indeed, this man of God gave Hope a new meaning to thousands of Filipinos.

  18. Nice shots you got :) Love your post!

  19. You were lucky you had the chance to participate. It's just a once in a lifetime event.