Separation anxiety from Pope Francis
I have to admit, I was never Pope Francis’ biggest fan.
Growing up, John Paul II had always been my Pope. And after his death back in 2005 and the election of a less charismatic successor, Benedict XVI, I have somehow made the mistake of comparing the two succeeding Popes, including Francis, with John Paul II.
And just like any loyal fan, I always thought that John Paul II’s charisma, commanding yet humbling presence, and that infectious smile would be incomparable to Francis. And upon learning of Francis’ visit to the Philippines, I thought that it would be difficult for him to charm the Filipinos the way John Paul II’s warm personality did in his two visits to Manila back in 1981 and 1995.
But I guess I thought wrong.
After seeing Pope Francis myself in Manila on Friday, watching his heartfelt homily in Tacloban on Saturday, and with the millions of Filipinos who gathered in Luneta to celebrate mass with him on Sunday, a strong emotional attachment, much like a case of ‘separation anxiety’ (#SepAx), filled me when his plane left the Villamor Airbase on Monday, back to the Vatican.
In that moment, I did not want him to leave the Philippines. I wanted Pope Francis to stay.
Change of heart
I guess the change of heart started on Thursday, January 15, when the Sri Lankan Airlines flight ALK 4111 carrying Pope Francis landed at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City for his five-day state and pastoral visit to the Philippines.
I was watching the live broadcast of his arrival on television when the camera zoomed in to the airplane’s window where Pope Francis was seated, probably still in his seatbelt, trying to lean forward to look outside the window, with genuine excitement in his eyes.
After a few long minutes of the plane’s taxiing the airport’s ground, just as he disembarked his plane and a sudden gust of wind blew off his zucchetto (his papal skullcap), the Filipinos saw that famed ‘Pope Francis smile’.
That famous genuine smile was even clearer when Pope Francis saw Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as one of those who welcomed him. And when Pope Francis hugged Cardinal Tagle, I felt that he was hugging and greeting every Filipino, including myself.
In that moment, I felt his presence. It was honest and it was real. I felt that Pope Francis was exactly where he needed to be.
But I was never meant to be in in Manila during Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. I was booked to fly back to Australia on the weekend before his arrival. But as fate would have it and a number of cancelled flights after, I guess it was really destined for me to see him.
Although I already saw and was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI during my visit at the Vatican in 2011, my three-second encounter with Pope Francis during his motorcade at the Mall of Asia Arena on Friday, January 16, was different in a very special way.
It was distinct not just because I waited for four hours with my family to see just a glimpse of Pope Francis but because I was in a sea of genuine believers who look up to the Pope not just as a tourist attraction in the Vatican but a leader of their religion, the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis was more than a rock star to the hundreds of Filipinos waiting there. They were shouting his name with tears in their eyes not because they wanted an autograph from him but because they genuinely believe that this man was next to God. And that Pope Francis is capable of miracles, able to heal their wounds, and listen to their heart’s desires.
In that moment, I witnessed the significance of his role as a leader of faith to millions of Filipinos, including myself. I witnessed something special.
But it was his homily during an emotional mass in Tacloban on Saturday, January 17, that was the climax of my admiration to Pope Francis.
When he braved the storm in a yellow raincoat similar to what the rest of the Taclobanons were wearing, Pope Francis became an epitome of a great leader. He joined the rest of his people.
“So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you,” the Pope said. (READ: The full text of the Pope's homily in Tacloban)
I was moved beyond words and humbled of his impromptu homily to the Yolanda survivors in Tacloban. And having been able to see firsthand the wrath that Yolanda left to the rest of the Visayas, I felt every word that Pope Francis said.
“I’d like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you – a little bit late, but I’m here,’ the Pope said.
In that moment, together with the rest of the Taclobanons, I was a believer. I became more than just his fan.
I may not have an intimate encounter with Pope Francis during his visit but I’m sure I speak for the majority of Filipinos who braved the rain in Luneta on Sunday, January 18, and the million others who watched and followed Pope Francis deliver his final mass on their television and social media: Pope Francis renewed our faith to God.
And so when Monday, January 19, came, the date of Pope Francis’ departure, I genuinely felt a strong emotional attachment to this Pope and I really wanted him to stay – not just for me but for the rest of the Filipinos who found hope in him.
But now that he left, I console myself in thinking that perhaps the ‘separation anxiety’ or #SepAx I really felt was not for Pope Francis himself but for the One whom he really represents. I guess what I really wanted to stay was my renewed relationship with God.
So thank you, Pope Francis! Mabuhay ka! – Rappler.com
Ace Tamayo is a journalist and an Australian Clarion awardee. He is currently pursuing his law studies at the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Ace is now a big fan of Pope Francis. Follow him on Twitter @AceATamayo