Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines last January 15 for a five-day pastoral and state visit. Being the country with the third largest Catholic population in the world, the Philippines and its 76 million faithful looked at the Papal Visit as a religious celebration. The highest pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church graced his presence in Philippine soil, coincidentally when the nation is at the brink of crisis caused by political corruption and disastrous natural calamities.
More than being the reigning pope of the Catholic Church, he is also both the Bishop of Rome and absolute sovereign of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican City. Filipino-Vatican ties extend to more than just adhering to the same religion. Politically, the Philippines has an ambassador to the Holy See, Hon. Mercedes Tuason. It is also fortunate enough to have a college dedicated to Filipino priests within the Vatican, Pontificio Collegio Filippino. Aside from these, Pope Francis appointed a Filipino as the Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations and four Filipinos also directly work for the Pope in Vatican City.
Looking at Pope Francis’ visit as a bilateral effort between the Philippines and Vatican City, it is by far the most peaceful state visit recorded in most recent history. Unlike the experiences of his peers and other world leaders who have conducted state visits to the Philippines in the past, no rally or protest against Pope Francis’ leadership was reported during his five-day trip.
No effigy was burnt in the middle of Mendiola, no anti-Catholic rallies were conducted within and outside Metro Manila, and no protester upstaged any of Pope Francis’ masses or meetings.
Even if many Filipinos were appalled with the Jan. 7 decision of the Court of Appeals to uphold reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran’s conviction for offending religious feelings, and many still have their eyebrows raised on the credibility of the Catholic Church after news about priests violating their vow of celibacy broke just days before the Pope’s visit, no one dared to challenge the intentions of the Papal Visit. Millions of Filipinos did go out to the streets, but they didn’t do it to signify protest. Catholic believers, young and old, stood for hours along the route of the Papal motorcade just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.
There is something outstanding about one of the most influential world leaders alive. The faithful describes Pope Francis as having a charismatic personality and his charisma is what supposedly attracts droves of people to show their support to him wherever he goes. He has always a smile on his face and he never hesitates to reach out to his supporters, especially children and the sick. Whether Pope Francis used the pope mobile to get to one stop to another in his Papal Visit itinerary, or whenever he opted to sit at the back of the black Volkswagen Touran, he never failed to stick his arm or head out of the vehicle to acknowledge the support of Filipinos.
Those residing along the stretch of Quirino Avenue to Nagtahan, the route used during Pope Francis’ courtesy call to Malacanang last Jan. 16 and his meeting with the youth at the University of Sto. Tomas last Jan. 18, were not contented with seeing the Pope mobile pass through their street once. They joined the crowd every time the pontiff’s delegation would go by their houses. One of the residents clarified that she thinks that there is something else other than the Pope’s charisma that charms his believers.
A volunteer from the St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Paco, Manila, on the other hand, shared that it was her first time to see Filipinos to be so cooperative and genuinely kind to strangers. No one tried to get ahead of the crowd just to get a better view of the Pope’s motorcade, and adults even encouraged the children to stay in front of the sidelines.
Along Taft Avenue, strangers helped one another get on top of center islands surrounding the perimeter of the Apostolic Nunciature, the Pope’s official residence in Manila. They brought food and water to share with other believers who were also waiting for Pope Francis to pass by, just like them. A barangay official reminded the crowd to be wary of their belongings out of her own volition. She was not a volunteer nor was she assigned to control the crowd. According to her, no incidents of pick pocketing and theft were reported in the area.
Maybe it’s the Pope’s humility that inspired Filipinos to be in their best behavior during his five-day visit to the Philippines. He did deny the extravagant official Papal vestments offered to him when he was elected as the Church’s highest leader last 2013. He insisted on wearing his silver pectoral cross given to him by a friend before he was even elected as pope instead of bejeweled pectoral crosses housed in the Papal Sacristy.
During his stay in the country, Pope Francis was adamant about using non-bulletproof Pope mobiles. He was also vocal in convincing the Philippine government to do away with the usual extravagant welcoming ceremonies, but President Benigno Simeon Aquino III even declared three additional holidays to commemorate his visit. In the Tacloban leg of his visit, Pope Francis didn’t mind getting drenched in the rain as he was seen wearing a yellow “kapote” while traversing Leyte in his Pope mobile.
Unfortunately, a volunteer was killed in Tacloban when the scaffolding housing the event stage’s sound system collapsed on top of her. The moment that Pope Francis found out about the incident, he immediately reached out to the volunteer’s family, personally speaking to her father. The patriarch was quick to accept his daughter’s fate, realizing that she died while serving her god. Pope Francis’ gesture touched the rest of the country, initiating the showcase of overwhelming support for the family the volunteer left behind.
Before leaving the Philippines and on his way to the tarmac, he asked the driver of the Pope mobile to stop, so he could bless three children waiting in Villamor Airbase. He was also seen carrying his own black briefcase on his way up to the Philippine Airline jet that will transport him back to Rome.
Many are still in awe of Pope Francis’ presence. The Catholic faith was humanized and right in front of millions of Filipinos was a world leader with the simplest intentions of initiating reforms within the Church and uniting its believers. Pope Francis is a progressive leader who stands by the Church’s doctrines on topics such as homosexuality, divorce, and abortion, but he never fails to remind all the faithful that individuals who support such causes must not be marginalized. He condemns corruption and any acts that would further oppress the poor, and he has every right to do so because he, himself, exemplifies the values of simplicity, humility, and solidarity.
In the midst of distrust within the Catholic Church, among its adherents, and even among non-believers who are just mystified by the existence of the leader of the Church, Pope Francis serves as a reminder that the good will always prevail. He is a living example of the goodness that comes with pairing faith and beliefs with corresponding actions.
Pope Francis is a strong influence to the world not only because of his faith, or because he is backed by more than 1.1 billion believers, but mostly because of his words and actions. He was able to prove this during his stay in the Philippines. For a world leader to affect the lives of millions of Filipino in the span of only five days, actions and words are indeed powerful.