What a Jesuit volunteer learned from Pope Francis
My “Pope Francis Story” began November 8, 2013 at the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), as I silently watched the news. I remember vividly my speechlessness. It took another step when I began volunteering in Tacloban 7 months later, my quiet response to the suffering in my heart.
And now in the following months, especially as my service ends here in Tacloban, my heart will be warmed, and simultaneously be burning, with 3 movements I experienced during the Pope’s recent visit to Tacloban.
1. The moment the plane landed
When he landed in Manila, at a closed facility, only a small group of people saw the landing with their own eyes. Most people watched on television. It was an easy landing with good light, good space, no distractions nor obstacles.
But as that big white bird with a golden egg broke though the storm at 8:47am in Tacloban City, over 200,000 suffering people were filled with intangible joy. Many of whom had lived through the strongest storm the world had ever seen. Many of whom had lost everything.
At that moment, with their own eyes, with no magic of media or illusion of a screen, 200,000 cold and drenched people, were warmed with full assurance that this man cared. That he would do whatever it takes to see them. The shepherd responsible for a flock of over a billion sheep cared for them.
And I’m sure when Pope Francis looked outside his window he was scared. He knew that a slippery runway would pull him in, far from the cool sunset that Manila had offered him. But he sought out his hurting sheep.
I swear, after literally standing for over 12 hours in the middle of a literal typhoon, watching those wheels touch this forsaken ground, I could feel the sun. We could all finally feel the sun.
2. The Holy Father’s backstage act
He walked out of the plane with a smile and with energy, as if he was more excited to see us. He had no idea it was raining. His cassock was pelted with a typhoon telling him to leave. But he needed to see his friends. He needed to see his followers, and those whom he had been following since November 2013.
He made his way to his Popemobile for what appeared to be a trip around the grounds to see everyone (boy, we were ready for that), but clearly against his plans, he was hurried into a private tent in the back. The crowd was advised that Pope Francis could either celebrate mass on a smaller altar in the stage background away from the rain, or in the tent while we watched on the many giant screens around.
And for a few tensest moments of that early morning, we peeled our eyes to the screen and waited for a verdict. We were all little confused and hurt (and waterlogged to the bones), but hopeful that our Holy Father would make the right choice. Seconds later, the scene on the big screen dried up all apprehension as it cut to the Pope donning a yellow poncho with a smile peeking from the plastic hood. The people staggered with almost irrepressible delight. He was there to see us, to be with us.
The kid in me smiled knowing that we wore the same poncho. I knew the little bag from which he received it. I knew how the flimsy string tie wouldn't hold properly. I knew how the rain went straight through the thin plastic and he knew it too. He knew how cold the plastic was against my skin and he knew the sound it made when water pierced through it.
And then he slowly walked on stage, and with the sincerest heart and most genuine joy I have ever encountered, he knew what we were all going through – whether you were there November 2013 or a year later. He struggled with the suffering of this city, with all of us, standing in the midst of a storm named Amang (Father).
3. “I don’t know what to say.”
Several times he was at a loss for words, but still he did without his prepared speech and spoke from his heart. And it was in that moment I learned from this incredible man, that the heart does not speak with words. But I can promise you, I heard his heart. I finally saw where my faith was formed and from where it flowed. From the silence of my own heart. (READ: The silence of Pope Francis)
During the haydays when I first confronted my radical faith, I was all about living proclaiming the love of God, whether through words or my example. And only after my greatest trial of faith, moving to the Philippines and volunteering in Tacloban, did I realize that faith is not measured by how many times I receive communion or even by how many times I lift a brother up.
It was in the loss of words of our Santo Padre that I realized that faith is not measured at all. It can only prevail. I realized 14 months later in the city that started it, that the silence in my heart was when my faith prevailed.
Too many times someone would ask me about my experience here and I never provided a clear answer. It frustrated and disheartened me. But now I see that it was in those moments of disgruntled silence that my faith coursed like a river. It is in the same silence I share with Pope Francis, that I can ground my hope. It is in that silence of my heart where I can love and serve the God in all things.
This is what Pope Francis taught me during the extraordinary hours I spent in his presence. My heart continues to burn, but it will prevail. It did not take much and it took even fewer words, but he moved my heart. He moved it with silence. A silence I will hear and heed forever. - Rappler.com
Rob Roa is a Filipino, an American, a Jesuit Volunteer, a wannabe social media celebrity, half a basketball player, a lover of Christ, and a lover of life. Follow him on twitter @rmroa.