By now Facebook and the whole spectrum of social media is alive and abuzz with the Pope Francis effect. The phenomena is inescapable with literally hundreds of pictures and videos (or vines) of the papal entourage passing by, the days on end news coverage of the papal visit with every obscure thing dissected and scrutinized. This phenomena is really something and for someone who hasn’t been that religious of late, it has become a point of reflection.
When Pope St. John Paul II came to the Philippines for World Youth Day in 1995, my mother took me to see the pope as he passed by. Back then all of the people who lined the streets just simply basked in the glory and holiness of the pope mobile passing by. This was pretty much an entirely new experience for a 6 year old, seeing the people get excited (myself included) and just seeing a glimpse of the topmost portion of the pope mobile (with a brief hint of a non-flyaway zucchetto) was all I remembered of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Philippines.
Flash forward to today, 20 years after the last pontiff came to the Philippines. It is an entirely different experience. My companions: Tricia, Val, Matti, Angela and Dose are on the streets of Espana we have barely slept the previous day and the night is cold. We have joined the throng of people who, like us, would gladly wait outside of UST just to see the pope. Throughout the night we chat with the police, asking and even reconfirming which side Pope Francis’s convoy would pass through. We debate if we should continue staying where we are or transfer to the barricades. Our hopes of entering our beloved alma mater have long since passed, we decide to move.
The decision to move to the barricades was somewhat welcoming, we had a wall where we could rest our heads on, and protection from the elements thanks to the heat of the people surrounding us. We got what little rest we could and waited. As we waited, the sounds of the people counting down to the opening of the gates would sometimes stir us from our power naps, light chitchat would punctuate the night and rare visits to the washroom helped pass the time.
We stood for over 3 hours, aching knees and heels and barely enough space to sit down I felt like I just wanted to quit. But with our situation I would have to say that this was the “point of no return”, Pope Francis was very close. I stood my ground and by 9:30 the papal convoy arrived, the screams and cheers of the people was thunderous and infectious. It became evident that my imagination would not become true, there was no Pope Francis standing atop his pope mobile, just his blue Volkswagen, waving at the people on the other side of the street.
When 6:30am came and went and as we moved out of the barricades and into the streets I realized what faith or even the opportunity to see the man, the leader of our faith could to our bodies. At this point we have been up for 6 hours already, we were tired and our nerves were somewhat frayed. I for one had let my temper loose with some snide comments directed at parish volunteers and people who did not follow the instructions of not bring chairs (in this case a makeshift bench). I was that tired but I believed and in my head I played it over and over again, seeing the white pope mobile make its way along Espana with Pope Francis standing, beaming and blessing us.
We were all disappointed, I wouldn’t consider our efforts all a waste I at least saw and felt his holy presence. But we would not give up, because we were staying at Angela’s dormitory along P. Noval and her unit had an open rooftop we made a mad scramble to see the pope one last time, even If he was quite miniscule. From that point, when I saw his pope mobile snake its way inside the field, and see him no matter how far, everything we did was all worth it. My screams of “viva il papa” and “Pope Francis” made all the fatigue and stress disappear. I was happy and content that I did what my mom and I did 20 years ago. The circumstances were very different but the papal effect swept me away with its infectiousness and in those few moments, I had witnessed something historical unfold before my eyes.