The past week went by too fast. Preparations were frenzied. Planning took months. Everything needed to be close to perfect. They had dry runs. But we didn’t have to rehearse the outpouring of love and warmth.
Now that it’s over, accolades have been heaped on those who worked tirelessly for its success, and no one can deny the flawless outcome of the event. Well, almost no one. There is always a disgruntled (probably embittered) character with nothing better to do than to throw brickbats and try to douse everyone’s enthusiasm. My comment is: Get a life!
Pope Francis waved from his plane window when they touched down from Sri Lanka. And the thunderous welcome began. There was no way anyone could ignore the passionate reception accorded this super, superstar.
I watched from the comfort of my room. I was awed by the numbers who braved the dismal weather, rose at the crack of dawn and walked long distances just to find a good spot on the papal route, happy to wait for endless hours for just a glimpse.
One young woman gushed: “I stood there praying that the Pope might stop near me, smile at me, or let me kiss his ring. It didn’t happen. But just seeing him made it all worthwhile. When he smiled in my direction I cried. Everyone around me was crying too, saying: ‘He waved at me! He blessed me.’”
He blessed us all.
Why does Pope Francis have such a stunning effect on so many?
I believe it is because we have not been in the presence of authentic goodness in a long time. Some of us have never seen it before.
There is nothing phony about this Pope. Exposed as we all are to pretenders and counterfeit “saints,” it is no wonder that we don’t know the real thing when it stares us in the face. Perhaps for the first time in our lives, we finally know someone who is good, truly good, and not too good to be true.
In person, on television, up close or from miles away, he came across like a healing balm for the broken, a soft blanket of comfort for the lonely, and a ray of hope to those in despair. He was a breath of fresh air to a world stifled by the stench of blatant evil and shamelessness.
Some people have described his four-day visit as a whirlwind. Pope Francis was the gentle but fierce wind that blustered into our lives, stirred us up, blew the cobwebs of complacency away, and awakened numb and unfeeling hearts to the realities around us. He made us look at one another with different eyes.
My old wise friend called him an earthquake. “He shook us up, and made us pay attention.”
Another spectator said: “He was like a spotlight on the poor and abandoned that live in misery right outside our doors. He made them visible to our reluctant eyes.”
Pope Francis seemed to struggle a bit when speaking from a prepared script in English. I loved it when he chose to address the multitudes in Spanish. That is when, irresistibly, he revealed his heart.
His interpreter, by the way, was excellent. It isn’t an easy task. In Leyte speaking to Yolanda victims, I noticed the translator missed one phrase: “No estais solos”. The Pope paused to listen to the translation and then said it again. “No estais solos!” This time the interpreter got the cue and cried out: “You are not alone!” The crowd cheered.
His homilies, in English, Spanish or even Italian, were straightforward. To the families gathered at MOA he said: “When you lose your capacity to dream, then you lose your capacity to love, and this energy to love is lost.”
He told students at UST: “This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn how to love.”
On Shepherd One, on his way back to the Vatican, he was asked how he felt standing in front of 7 million cheering people in Luneta. It occurs to me that with a fraction of that crowd a politician would be all puffed up, boastful and arrogant, imagining himself a powerful giant. But Pope Francis humbly replied: “I felt quite small.”
I love what he told the youth: “Let us not have a computer psychology that makes us think we know it all. All answers on computers—but no surprises. God awaits us to surprise us. God reveals himself through surprises. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God.”
This simple and humble man has given us much to think about. It is now our choice to accept and allow his words of wisdom to sow seeds of change in our lives. He admonishes us not to gossip, not to judge, to meet the poor in the flesh, to “make it a habit to ask the Lord”.
For some of us, this won’t be easy.
Someone just told me a romantic story. A trove of love letters handwritten almost 80 years ago by a young man and his ladylove was recently found. He has since gone to heaven and she is now in her 90s.
In pen and ink and on ruled paper now yellowed, brittle and frayed, the letters were kept in a secret hiding place only she knew about. Today she shares them with her children. They will learn about her forever kind of love.
I wonder if in her solitude, she ever took these letters out to read over and remember. Sigh!