My parents arrived in Manila the night after the Pope did. On the ride home from the airport, my Mom asked me, “So will you meet the Pope?” My Mom thinks I am as famous as Oprah or Kris Aquino. She doesn’t live here. She is, of course, my biggest fan. “Mom, how could I meet the Pope? I don’t even have passes to any of the scheduled Masses.” Then she said, “I don’t know. You have many friends. You’re in media. The government. The church. Fr. Dennis. Your dad’s Air Force friends.” I remembered why I didn’t ask anyone for tickets or passes. I told my Mom, “Pope Francis is not like that. He’s not about using privilege and connections. He’s here to see the people who suffered during Yolanda.”
I spent the first three days of Pope Francis’ visit glued to the TV screen watching and listening to him. I must have freaked out my kids because one minute I’m sobbing when his plane lands, then I’m laughing between tears when his beanie cap gets blown by the wind. I listened to all his homilies and speeches with tears in my eyes. Touched by every single one of them.
The events in Tacloban did it for me — the storm, the pilgrims in raincoats, the survivors, the Pope’s silence, the unfortunate death of Kristel and the crash/mishap. I wanted to see the Pope, even for a split second.
I had no means of getting ID’s or passes to get close to the Pope. I didn’t use my contacts in media, church, government and military. I just wanted to go out and catch a glimpse of him in the motorcade along his route. My husband couldn’t come with me. He’s a journalist and he was manning the fort in his station. My Facebook feed was starting to fill with Pope sightings from privileged friends who found their way in to ticketed events. I wanted my own Pope story. I have never seen a Pope in person.
Luckily, my cousin Joan had plans, and more importantly she had the will to go Pope-stalking. In photo: my cousin John and his wife Sheila, Joan and her friends Jeanne, Hazel, TJ and Joan’s husband Ace. This was at the first corner we found in Quirino on the wrong side of the street.
Our strategy was simple – find the best site where the Pope will surely pass. Our goal was not to go to Luneta. We didn’t have IDs for it and the periphery would be too crowded. TJ had a Cherry mobile phone with a TV and monitored the morning UST events. We knew Luneta would just be jam-packed, so we didn’t even try to get near it.
It was raining the entire time. We parked our car in Harrison Plaza then walked along Quirino Avenue as close as we could to the Nunciature. We didn’t actually go near the Nunciature because it was too crowded.
We found space in the elevated planter island on the middle of Quirino Avenue. We knew that eventually he’d have to pass Quirino Ave to get to Luneta. So from 10:30am to 3:00pm, we sat under the rain using just a raincoat and some plastic garbage bags lining the muddy ground. For almost five hours, the rain didn’t stop. But we didn’t move from our spot. We didn’t eat or drink.
The road was still relatively empty. There were some moments we doubted ourselves. What if they changed his route? Where were the cops and the human barricade? But we didn’t move. We were determined to wait it out.
Around 1pm the PNP troops started to come to our area. That’s when we knew for sure that we were in the right spot. The mood along the motorcade route was celebratory. Even the cops were in a light and friendly mood. People shared food with them. We gave them water.
It was by far one of the most illogical things I’ve ever done — to wait in the rain for 5 hours with no umbrella. We were told via news media not to bring umbrellas. We sat on plastic garbage bags directly on top of soil, so after about an hour, the mud started to seep into our “seats”. We got up and stood the rest of the time. Mud seeped in to my shoes. But none of us complained. And the wait didn’t seem that long at all. It was fun being there. People were kind and funny. There was a man who was the town-know-it-all, a pushy old woman who was oblivious to danger, and children who didn’t whine or complain. Ang saya! It’s more meaningful in Tagalog.
By now you have read hundreds of Pope encounters. I will say what everyone has said. The feeling was electric. My hands and legs were shaking. In the few seconds that he was in our (unobstructed) line of vision, he was facing our direction and waved his hand in a blessing gesture. I saw his wonderful smile and his eyes… I will never forget. I lost my composure – tears, screaming, jumping. My cousin and I settled ourselves into a big hug and cried to each other.
I know that the Pope is just a man. He is not God. We do not worship him. But we like him a lot. He has been able to spread the word of Jesus in the most attainable and understandable way. He’s shown compassion and goodness. And we like good stuff.
The whole experience was amazing. It was an incredible feeling being with the people and walking the streets of Manila in the rain. I got to see my Pope without VIP connections, special ID’s or privileges. We just waited patiently, and he came. It wasn’t so much about seeing him than it was about being together. In the eyes of God, we are all equal — rich or poor, sick or healthy, good or bad. Of course now, I wish the world would just be like that… no poverty, no corruption, no inequality, no suffering. But that’s all up to us now.
“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.” — Pope Francis, UST Jan 18, 2015.