It has been over a week since Pope Francis left Manila, yet his visit is still the topic of conversations. We are, indeed, on a papal high; he is still in our hearts, where hopefully, he will remain for a long time.
I still remember when Pope (and now Saint) John Paul II came to Manila for World Youth Day in 1995. I was then in elementary school, and my friends and I were all excited.
Since I was neither a delegate nor a part of the activities, I eagerly awaited my chance to see him at the Mass in Luneta.
I left home very early and found a sea of people in Rizal Park. I don’t really remember actually seeing him, but the joy of simply being there and knowing I was attending a Mass celebrated by His Holiness was enough to leave an impression that has stayed with me.
And so, on the day of Pope Francis’ arrival, again I found myself standing on the roadside with my mom and my aunt waiting to welcome “Papa Francisco” or “Lolo Kiko”—as many Filipinos lovingly called him. This time, I brought my 6-year-old daughter Adriana.
On Quirino Avenue I could not find a place for Adriana to stand and have a clear view. Fortunately, a kind man offered to let her sit with his family on the island planters in the middle of the road—a front-row view!
I was content peering through the legs of people standing in front of me, but at the last minute, a woman moved aside and invited me up. I managed to jump on that high planter just in time to wave to Pope Francis as his convoy went by.
We were blessed to see him two more times. My husband Migs joined us and even helped our kids create a poster that they could hold up for the Pope to see.
Amid the excitement, confusion was inevitable, with some people questioning the enthusiasm of our countrymen. I think it is important to clarify that Catholics do not worship nor pray to the pope. We actually pray for the pope and with him. We look to him for guidance on doctrine. We respect him as the leader of our Church and consider him the Vicar of Christ, but not as Christ Himself.
For me, the pope represents a humble, authentic holiness that I hope to be able to imbibe and impart to my children. His visit was an amazing experience that my family and I, with millions of other Filipinos, will always cherish.
On his visit, Pope Francis was like a fountain, giving new life to the weary with his words of wisdom. But his visit will be relevant only if we take to heart and live his messages.
Some of my favorites, beginning with his speech at Malacañang:
“Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart… I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.”
When I heard his talk about families, I wanted to remember everything he said!
“I love this idea of dreaming in a family… It is not possible to have a family without such dreams… When you lose this capacity to dream, then you lose the capacity to love and this energy to love is lost. For this reason, I recommend that, at night, when you examine your conscience, ask as well, today, did I dream of my children? Did I dream of the love of my spouse? Also my parents, family? It is very important to dream and to dream in the family. Please don’t lose this ability to dream in this way.”
I especially like the next line because it offers a glimpse into the kind of man Jorge Mario Bergoglio is. Who would have thought of the pope as a romantic?
“That is why it is so important to recapture your love through the dream, all your life… Don’t ever lose the illusion of when you were boyfriend and girlfriend.”
But it’s not all about dreams and romance for this pope. It is also about being strong and vigilant, as he reminds all of us that “our world needs God and strong families… holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of families in God’s plan. Every threat to family is a threat to society itself, the future of humanity passes through the family.
“Families will always have trials. May you never add to them. Instead, may you live in examples of love, forgiveness and prayer… Respect the sanctity of life from conception to natural death…”
The mission of families
He constantly emphasized the importance of prayer and praying together as a family. “Prayer is resting in God. If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all which is God’s will for us… Families that pray together, remain together. Through prayer, [children] grow into men and women of faith.”
Pope Francis also reminded us of the indispensable mission of families and parents in society. “When families bring children into this world, train them in faith and sound values. Teach them to contribute to society and be a blessing. God’s love becomes present in this world by the good we do.”
He constantly reminded us of this year being the “Year of the Poor,” both in his speech in Malacañang and at the Mall of Asia Arena. “Open your homes. Care for your brothers and sisters most in need…
“Do not hide your faith. Do not hide Jesus. Carry him into the world and offer the witness of your family life.”
Most important subject
The pope also touched on other things, such as the role of women, when he noticed that there were not enough of them in the program at the University of Santo Tomas.
“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too machistas and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand.”
I found it truly relevant and practical that he did not eschew the advantages of modern technology, but instead pointed out how to properly manage it to make the most of what we have today.
“Today, with so many means of communication we are overloaded with information. Is that bad? No. It is good and can help. But there is a real danger of living in a way that we accumulate information. We have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with that information. So we run the risk of becoming museums of young people who have everything but not knowing what to do with it. We don’t need young museums but we do need holy young people.
“What is the most important subject you have to learn in life? To learn how to love. This is the challenge that life offers you…”
He reminded us to “allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward in the right direction.”
‘Pray for me’
Of course, since the theme of the pope’s visit was mercy and compassion, one of the most moving parts of his speech was when he discussed compassion in relation to a crying child’s burning question, which had everyone watching in tears as well.
We are reminded not to assume that we are compassionate just because we give a little something as we make our way in this world.
“Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion, which is useless… It’s a compassion that makes us put our hands in our pockets and give something to the poor. But if Christ had had that kind of compassion he would have greeted a couple of people, given them something, and walked on. But it was only when he was able to cry that he understood something of our lives.
“This is the first thing I want to say: Let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson.”
Whether the seeds he planted will take root and grow remains to be seen, but I am hopeful that, indeed, they will create a change in all of us, which will make us all not just better people, but a better nation as well.
Allow me to leave you with a last reminder from Pope Francis: “I pray for you always. I pray for the family. I pray that the Lord may continue to deepen your love for the Lord and that His love will manifest itself in your love for one another and the Church… Pray for me. I badly need your prayers. I will depend on them always.”