How my family welcomed Pope Francis in our hearts

Pope Mania in Manila. Photos by Oliver Demano

Pope Mania in Manila. Photos by Oliver Demano

By Oliver Demano, TFLA correspondent in Manila

My family and I booked a hotel two months before the Pope’s Visit near the area of Quirino Grandstand in the famous Luneta or Rizal Park to ensure our attendance to his celebration of the Holy Mass on January 18.

On the night before the spiritual event, my brother Noel and I with his family (Weng, Phil and Tin) made an ocular visit of the area to strategize how we could all smoothly access the streets leading to the Quirino Grandstand.  We were surprised to find hundreds of families preparing to do the same with many coming from different places of the country equipped with their tents or blankets to sleep in the streets overnight.

The weather folks made a forecast it would be a rainy day due to Typhoon “Amang,” and Metro Manila was under Typhoon signal #1.   This did not deter the faithful.    Waiting for Pope Francis or as many have endearingly referred him to as “Lolo Kiko,” became a family reunion of sorts for many of us.

The mass was scheduled to be at 3 p.m. but as we trekked to Luneta at 7 a.m. we  were stunned once more to see that around Quirino grandstand, crowds had already assembled, flowing through the streets and avenues like a  steady stream of water seeking its source, so to speak.

Prior this event, Pope Francis attended his first event in Metro Manila called “Encounter with the Youth” held at the University of Santo Tomas.   With lines of people waiting for him throughout this route, he proceeded to the Apostolic  Nunciature (the official residence of the Pope in Manila, located on Taft Avenue) and then he proceeded to Luneta to officiate the Holy Mass.

Many of the people we met felt so blessed to partake in this once in a lifetime event.

“Seeing the Holiness, it’s like seeing Holy Jesus in the person of Pope Francis,” said a relative who came with me.

We found some form of conviviality in the waiting process, trying to approximate the time of the Pope’s coming.    While heavy rains poured, we all waited patiently covered by our ‘kapotes’  (raincoats) or umbrellas.    When sirens would blare, people raised their rosaries, Sto. Nino statues, handkerchiefs; even their babies and their smart phones, in preparation to get the Pope’s blessings- almost to the point of, I think, hysterical anxiety.   I have never witnessed such profound and heartfelt excitement in a crowd (as they say colloquially, “wagas na wagas ang feeling”).

Families gather in clusters, meet friends as they welcome the pope

Families gather in clusters, meet friends as they welcome the pope

Twice the sirens would blare but only to welcome the advance security parties.    We crowded around those with their radios to update on the Pope’s whereabouts and to get more accurate information; for example that the Pope will ride his “Pope mobile” and not a small black car.  People shared the news with each other like a communication brigade:  “ Si Pope sasakay sa Pope mobile car!” It’s like passing information “chismis style”.

Finally,  His Holiness Pope Francis came by where we formed in a queue , jubilant in his white robe,  he was waving non-stop,  giving the multitude the papal blessings and that unlimited smile- that genuine smile that remained in each people’s mind.   He appeared overwhelmed by the large crowd patiently waiting under the rain showing that our “faith is weather-proof!”

Some said the Pope’s presence brought different waves of emotions. Some felt they were blessed, and some felt hope; many had goose bumps.   Some were jumping and crying, holding on to their rosaries.  

Even after the Pope passed by us, the crowd did not stop talking to each other trying to validate their shared experience.

At lunch time, three hours more of enthusiastically waiting, some families brought out their packed lunches and happily “picnicked” along Quirino Street and Roxas Blvd. where the Pope Mobile had gradually reduced speed to prepare to come to the grandstand for the Mass.     At the grandstand the Pope arrived earlier than schedule and this time, he rode in a Jeepney-styled Pope mobile.  His Holiness looked so fresh with no signs of exhaustion.

The Holy Mass was attended by an estimated 6 million, according to news reports.  Attendees had filled not only the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park but also managed to mill around nearby small streets and avenues.    A big LED screen was staged for those who were not lucky to be near the venue.

In my opinion, this historic event brought the rich and poor together in one assembly showing our collective Faith in God through the person of Pope Francis, truly an Ambassador of His Goodness. Pope Francis’ presence among the faithful of the Philippines gave hope to all the hopeless especially in these times of despair and hardship, confusion, mental and physical threat, social discrimination and amidst the threats of calamities assuring us of a “true essence of unity and family” of mankind.

I think the challenge now in every Filipino after this “Holy Visit” is how to maintain in our selves his messages of simplicity, mercy and compassion for those without resources to sustain a dignified life on earth.

Flock of 6 million

Flock of 6 million

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