During the week of January 12, 2015, Fr. Ricky Manalo, Jesse Manibusan and I had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines as OCP's representatives for the pastoral visit of Pope Francis. We were involved in liturgies and prayer concerts leading up to the final Papal Mass at Rizal Park in Manila. It was an amazing week during which we experienced the warm hospitality of our Filipino hosts.
The people of the Philippines welcomed Pope Francis with an outpouring of love; the Holy Father's energy was electrifying. A tangible excitement could be felt by everyone as Filipinos lined the streets of Manila to greet the papal motorcade.
The Holy Father performed the ceremonial protocol that is the duty of any visiting head of state: shaking hands with dignitaries and exchanging gifts and speeches with the host president or sovereign. Formalities aside, Pope Francis was and is a master of the small heartfelt gestures that speak volumes to a world starved for love. Here are some examples:
Despite potential dangers, Pope Francis eschewed a bulletproof popemobile in favor of an open air model that allowed him to reach out and shake hands, kiss babies and bless children. At times he stopped the car to personally greet the disabled and marginalized.
Within an already tight schedule, the Holy Father found the time to visit a shelter for street children, unannounced. The kids at Blessed Charles de Foucald Shelter were told that they might be able to catch a glimpse of the papal motorcade as it passed by their building. Imagine their shock when Pope Francis walked into the shelter! They greeted him with hugs, smiles and squeals of delight. The Pope not only gave them hope, but a day they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
In Tacloban, the region devastated by typhoon Yolanda in 2013, Pope Francis received a taste of nature's power as a new typhoon threatened to cancel an outdoor liturgy. He insisted that Mass go on as planned, despite the pouring rain and gusty winds that forced him to wear a yellow rain poncho on top of his vestments. Moved by the faith of the hundreds of thousands of people who waited for hours to see him, the Holy Father put aside the notes of his planned homily and chose instead to speak from his heart, gently reminding the people of Leyte that "Jesus is Lord and he will never let you down." Many in the crowd who lost family members in the typhoon disaster were moved to tears.
During Sunday morning's youth gathering at the University of Santo Tomas, a planned "structured dialogue" became a spontaneous exchange of wisdom and love as Glyzelle Iris Palomar, a 12-year-old former street child, asked the Holy Father why God allows children to suffer prostitution and drug abuse. She broke down in tears and could not continue so Pope Francis reached out to embrace her, then proceeded to depart from his prepared remarks and once again speak from his heart. He could give no answer to the young girl's question of suffering but noted that her tears spoke more eloquently than her words. He exhorted the thousands of young people there to not be afraid to cry. "Certain realities of life we see only through eyes cleansed with tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: Have I learned how to weep?"
A papal visit is always an emotional experience for Catholics as they personally encounter the Vicar of Christ. Through his genuine love, his smile and the obvious joy he has for his ministry, Pope Francis truly touches hearts in an extraordinary way. He is a model for all Christians to reach out to others in Jesus' name. As Manila's Cardinal Tagle said at the end of the closing Papal Mass: "Holy Father, we will go with you where the light of Jesus is needed."
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