Bye, Pope Francis! See you in the peripheries
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – I covered the papal visit but I did not see Pope Francis in person. I saw him through the eyes of the people who saw him behind the barricades.
Outside the walls of Intramuros where the Manila Cathedral is located, I met 49-year-old Leni Maglasang, an ambulant vendor with disability. She lost her leg in an accident at the San Juanico Bridge in Leyte in 1980.
She believed seeing the Pope would heal her. She struggled to stand from her wheelchair when the papal convoy passed on its way to the Manila Cathedral from Malacañang, she said.
If only Pope Francis knew what it meant for her, she said. It was her birthday the day before the Pope arrived in the Philippines. Seeing him in the flesh was the best gift she has ever received.
“Masayang-masaya. Nagpapasalamat ako na nakita ko siya,” a beaming Maglasang exclaimed. (I’m very happy. I’m grateful I saw him.)
For many people who waited along the streets from dusk until dawn, the visit was a precious gift for the poor. And you can sense how the Pope reciprocated the goodwill of Filipinos – he was happier, more at ease, and more emotionally unguarded when he was with them.
1) Sneaking into an orphange from the cathedral
The series of memorable papal moments in the Philippines – the unscheduled meetings, the spontaneous speeches, the touching gestures – happened neither in the Palace nor the cathedral.
It began when he stepped out of the church and went to the orphanage Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth), a shelter for neglected and rescued street children.
"Angel," not her real name, found comfort in the arms of the Holy Father when he met her and 300 other children on Friday, January 16.
My colleague, Rupert Ambil, who helped me shoot the interview, almost teared up as his camera zoomed into Angel’s face then blurred it in the video package because she is a victim of abuse. (READ: Pope Francis meets street kid who wants to be Pope)
Pope Francis himself said he was touched by the encounter:
"I was very moved from the mass today… When I visited that shelter, that home for children without their parents… How many people in the church work so that house is a home?"
2) Feeling 'annihilated' at Yolanda Ground Zero
On his way back to the Vatican, Pope Francis told journalists the Tacloban Mass was the "most moving moment" for him:
"Very moving, to see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe," he said.
"I felt as though I was annihilated, I almost couldn’t speak. I don’t know what happened to me, maybe it was the emotion, I don’t know. But I didn’t feel another thing. It is something," he added.
The hard-headed Pope insisted that his trip to Leyte Ground Zero of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) - should push through despite the threatening skies. It was the main purpose of his visit to begin with, he asserted.
Wearing an ordinary man’s raincoat, he deeply moved the hearts of the survivors and a nation that witnessed the horrible tragedy. "Pope in a Raincoat" defined this papal visit, according to my colleague, Paterno Esmaquel II, who led the coverage in Leyte.
In silence, through smiles or in words, he showed the empathy we did not feel from our leaders during those trying times. The world helped us but we felt like orphans. We had many heads that divided us when we needed a leader to unite us. The Holy Father filled that void.
We heard an inspiring, reassuring voice that helped heal the wounds of the victims: “I am here to be with you. A little bit late, I have to say, but I’m here.”
My fellow Leyteños who experienced hell during and after Yolanda will never forget those comforting words from the Holy Father.
3) Mourning on stage and in private
On the 4th day, a festive gathering of young people at the University of Sto Tomas (UST) was interrupted by stunning moments of papal silence.
The first one briefly eulogized Kristel Mae Padasas, the Yolanda aid worker who died after Saturday’s papal Mass in Tacloban City. (READ: Pope Francis mourns death of Yolanda aid worker)
The Pope met with Kristel’s father, according to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. "I only have one child. Why was she taken away from me?" the grieving father asked the Pope.
Pope Francis was again confronted with another question about human suffering: “Why does God allow drug addiction and prostitution?” 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar asked Pope Francis at the UST gathering.
In private or on stage, the Pope does not offer philosophical answers, theoretical frameworks, and paradigms. He humbly admits these questions and realities reduce him to silence.
The Pope said after meeting Kristel's father: "I was edified at the talk I had with the father of Kristel, the young woman volunteer who died in Tacloban. He said she died in service, he was seeking words to confirm himself to this situation, to accept it."
"The Holy Father was searching for words. How do you console a father who lost his only child?" Tagle remembered how the Pope reacted to Kristel’s father.
The pontiff observed the gestures of the crowd and listened their sorrows.
“She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. And she wasn’t able to express it in words but rather in tears," the Pope said, addressing Palomar.
In the end, the pontiff could only give a simple line – “reality is superior to ideas.” In his humble silence, he distills his answers.
As the noise of the papal visit dies down and the country gets back to “reality,” let’s reflect on takeaways from the experience we can bring to our daily grind.
To the fringes
Our appreciation of the encounter with Pope Francis may vary, but his trip provided us an idea of what we could have overlooked before he came, perhaps because we were indifferent or busy dictating what their needs should be. We forgot to listen: "To learn to be evangelized by the poor, by those we help, the sick, orphans, they have so much to give us," the Pope said.
He shows us the way. He leads by example.
Fellow Rappler Ayee Macaraig’s curtain-raiser emphasized the Pope’s overseas tours show a consistent persona of Francis – he is a Pope of the fringes.
In his farewell speech in Luneta on Sunday, January 19, Cardinal Tagle suggested he is a Pope for the peripheries – the shanties, prison cells, hospitals, and so on.
At MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, we called our reporting of the event “peripheral coverage.” The stories our reporters and citizen journalists tell us that the most poignant moments with the Pope happened at the sidelines with the people. (VISIT: #PopeFrancisPH microsite)
We felt it. His empathy. His silence. His grief. His excitement.
Bask in the papal euphoria while it lasts. But when it fizzles out, let us revisit the places where the rare inspiring encounter with the People's Pope took place. Let us go with him to the peripheries. – Rappler.com