There was just something extraordinary about the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines that you can’t quite explain. How could the presence of just one man unite tens of millions of Filipinos? During his visit, the people were on their best behavior, with crime rates substantially lower according to the Philippine National Police, while strangers helped one another out while waiting for the papal convoy to pass by. Streets were cleaned, walls were given fresh coats of paint, traffic was properly managed, and the government went the extra mile to ensure the safety of the people and the country’s esteemed and most holy visitor. These are things that you just do not see every day in the Philippines.
The Papal Visit was a shot in the arm for the country—it reinvigorated the Filipino people, awakened a government that has been perceived as dormant, and it united everyone in ways that no one and nothing else could. A trip by any other popular figure or leader to the Philippines would pale in comparison to that of Pope Francis, and only the visit of Saint Pope John Paul II to the Philippines for World Youth Day in 1995 could compare. For many of this country’s youth, this was their first time to experience something like this, and it was truly unique because it wasn’t just a handful of leaders or people rolling out the red carpet for him—it was the entire country.
Of course, the Philippines’ standing as the nation with the third largest Catholic population had everything to do with this. For the Catholic Church, the Pope’s visit was exactly what the doctor ordered. Many whose faith had grown stale and lukewarm were reinvigorated by the arrival of Pope Francis. Millions of pilgrims flocked to the Quirino Grandstand to attend his celebration of the holy mass while even more lined the streets and waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of him. Many were inspired by his presence in the country and those who saw him, myself included, were moved to tears just by seeing him pass by. It’s an unexplainable phenomenon, one where you are overwhelmed with happiness, and for many, this man is the most concrete proof that God exists. The grace, inspiration, and strength that only the Pope could give might not be tangible, but as The Little Prince said, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
However, Pope Francis’ visit was not just special to Catholics. Those with different beliefs also found it meaningful and several took to the internet to share their experiences. This is the effect that someone like Pope Francis, who speaks with so much positivity and hope while inspiring people to practice mercy and compassion, has on people. His words are filled with wisdom and wit while he commands everyone’s attention from the second that he appears to the moment that he leaves. Many fall asleep while listening to mass on Sundays, but with Pope Francis, the opposite happens and you are inclined to listen intently.
How can you not pay attention to someone who says, “Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved. It’s harder to let yourself be loved than to love. That is why it is so difficult to come to the perfect love of God. We can love Him but we must let ourselves be loved by Him. Real love is being open to the love that comes to you.” In a world where a growing number of people feel depressed, lonely, and abandoned, the words of the pontiff mean even more. As a matter of fact, there is something to learn every time this man speaks and not just when it is about love.
He addressed pressing social issues while he was in the Philippines, particularly the widespread corruption in the government. When he spoke at the Malacañang Palace during his courtesy call to President Benigno Aquino III, Pope Francis said, “Reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.” The faces of many politicians turned sour upon hearing this as shown on television, and though these words may resonate with politicians the most, it should also open our eyes to our duty to fight the evils of society and live with integrity.
Pope Francis also served as a beacon of hope to the people because of his touching words and humility. In his homily during his mass for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, Pope Francis said, “Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.” You could feel the sincerity in his words and he touched millions, even those who were not directly affected by the storm. For those who were hit hardest, he was an inspiration to keep on going as they found solace in his words.
Though he was in the Philippines for just five days, the effects of the Papal Visit on the people will hopefully be felt for many years to come. Millions of lives were changed through his wise words and he showed the Filipino people what they were capable of doing. The country was at its best while Pope Francis was here and it would be a shame if we reverted back to how we were before his visit. Now that he has returned to Vatican City, we are unsure of when the next Papal Visit to the Philippines will be, but hopefully it will not take another 20 years. In the meantime, we have been left with invaluable lessons and realizations to put into practice before that day comes.
However, his visit will be for naught if we do not put his words into action. This is the perfect springboard for many of the injustices in this country to be fixed, but this can only happen if we act with the same enthusiasm that we showed while waiting for St. Peter’s successor to pass by along Roxas Boulevard and Quirino Avenue. The lessons that we have learned—both through the words of the pontiff and the experiences that we have gained during his visit—must be put into practice in real life because, as Pope Francis said, “Reality is superior to ideas.”