ANGELES CITY—Do you know Pope Francis enough like you do a well-loved, highly expected visitor?
Nine-year-old Marianne Santiago, teener Adeliene Marie Sampang, retired teacher Ludivina Malig and businessman Reghis Romero believe they need to know more about the Pontiff ahead of his visit to the Philippines from Jan. 15 to 19.
What helped them understand the life of Pope Francis—described by San Fernando (Pampanga) Archbishop Florentino Lavarias as a “very wonderful gift” to the people—was the musical “I Love Pope Francis.”
Song by One Direction
Performed by a cast of 50 youths, professionals and businesspeople, as well as five priests, the play saw its first run at Holy Angel University (HAU) theater here on Saturday night.
“I learned about the Pope because I watched this play,” Santiago said, clutching her teddy bear.
Sampang called Francis a “modern Pope.”
“He kept up with the times,” she said, amazed that, like her, Francis liked the song “What Makes You Beautiful,” by the British boy band One Direction.
The audience clapped wildly when the actor playing Francis crossed the stage while singing the refrain of that hit.
Malig, 81, said it was important to know the Pope because he leads Roman Catholics, like her, around the world.
“He’s not aristocratic. He’s a very simple man, very humane,” Romero said, drawing such insights from the portrayals by Fr. Ricardo Luzung and Fr. Ted Valencia of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a seminarian, archbishop and cardinal in his native Argentina.
Running two hours in two acts and with 24 original songs, the musical happens in the fictional parish of San Felipe.
‘Like sweet adobo’
Here unfolds the stories of Bergoglio’s calling of priesthood during St. Matthew’s feast, how devotees kept him away from temptations while he was a seminarian, his acceptance of his vocation and his visits to the poor of Argentina.
The play also tackled his planned resignation and his being summoned to the Vatican conclave to choose a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in February 2013.
One of the well-loved scenes was when an apparition of St. Peter appeared to Francis, with the latter singing: “I am the rock, they say I am. But I am not the truth, You are. I’m just a pebble at your feet, your humble servant beneath your seat.”
The musical showed that Francis’ acts of humility and his visits to the poor have inspired Catholics. Cast members illustrated these through a song, which went: “The Pope is like the simple dish adobo and we’re the ripe and the very sweet mango. So perfect, what a match! Together, poor men, we will catch.”
Gospel of love
The audience rose to their feet and joined the singing and dancing, chanting, “La, la, la, la. Thank you, Papa!”
Santiago, Sampang, Malig and Romero said the play inspired them to live Jesus Christ’s gospel of love that the Pope preaches, making the Church alive in faith.
Robert Tantingco, HAU vice president for external affairs, said the musical was timely.
“While Pope Francis has been turning the world upside down, we know very little of his personal life,” Tantingco told the audience.
Pampanga Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who is involved in the preparations for the papal visit, said watching the musical was one way to get ready for the event.
He urged everyone, especially the young, to watch the musical.
Pope won’t see it
David said the Pope would not have the chance to squeeze the musical into his tight schedule but members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines might watch it at a plenary after the papal visit.
Tantingco said the musical is a gift of the Kapampangan to the Holy Father. HAU, together with San Miguel Corp., is a major sponsor of the project.
“Only the Kapampangan can come up with a gift like this,” Tantingco told the audience. “We are known for our fidelity to the Church, having produced the first Filipino cardinal, first priest, first nun and first priest-governor.”
Pampanga was the first mission of the Augustinians outside of Manila in 1572.
Pool of talents
Fr. Deo Galang, president of Teatru Kapampangan, which mounted the project, said the musical was a labor of “joyful evangelization” that Francis had been urging priests and laity to do.
It drew from a vast pool of talents organized by theater director and choreographer Andy Alviz from the groups ArtiStaRita and Ima at Arti for such Church-themed zarzuela productions as “Tulauk,” “Ciniong” and “Perry.”
John Robertson, producer of “Miss Saigon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “Mama Mia” and other musicals, regards “I Love Pope Francis” as Alviz’s “most cohesive in terms of storytelling.”
Randy del Rosario’s music was well-executed, Robertson said, adding that the cast performed with their heart.
Next play dates are Dec. 12 and Jan. 10, with showings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Holy Angel University in Angeles City.