Manila on a normal day is not easy to manage. Throw in Pope Francis, a mass for six million people and some rain, and you can expect some disorder and confusion.
However, what I experienced showed me the better side of what Filipinos and the Philippines can be.
Before the Mass, the streets lining the main boulevard where the pope’s motorcades would pass en route to Rizal Park, were already lined thick with people who had arrived by dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. “The pope is a human saint — when we see him our problems go away,” said 35-year-old Evangeline Dion.
Rick Felajo, 54, who had followed the Pope to every event in Manila said that, even if he did not manage to see him personally, he feels he’d feel “blessed” just to be near him. “For me, he is the super Pope because he is very human and helpful. I want to follow his example. And he is the ultimate guide to the path to heaven,” Felajo explained.
A moment to remember
When the Popemobile finally drove by, the air was filled with cheers, jubilant screams and applause.
Fifteen-year old Brenda Ganabban told me, “I felt happy, even if just for a moment. I saw him smiling, waving his hands at us. I know he probably won’t remember but I will remember him.”
For a hot and humid country used to heavy tropical rain, standing outside in the elements for hours didn’t seem to be a problem. Soaking wet by lunchtime, everyone was still smiling and happy.
Joey Stefona, 55, who had stood in the rain for five hours, explained, “I feel like it’s shining, it’s really warm. I don’t feel the rain.”
Any cover will do…
The weather also brought out the Filipinos’ innate creativity and resourcefulness; having listened to the advisory against bringing umbrellas, those who did not have raincoats wore every form of plastic imaginable.
People protected their heads with towels, helmets and even shower caps, and bubble wrap and trash bags were fashioned into scarves, hats, shirts and overdresses.
Thousands of faithful, having found the main venue packed to capacity, wandered around the carnival-like atmosphere, passing souvenir and snack vendors, and people waving porcelain, wood or ceramic religious figures, in search of somewhere to stand and pray.
At times, the massive flow of people pushed me into a crowd moving in two directions at once with enough room to move only inches forward at a time. But despite this, people remained kind and helpful.
When I found it impossible to shoot a colleague on video because throngs of people were passing by nonstop, one lady offered to hold my umbrella over the camera, and another volunteered to direct people around us as we filmed.
No matter where you looked on nearby Roxas Boulevard, usually a traffic-filled main artery, the spirit in the air was ordered and peaceful. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up calmly behind police barricades before, during and after the Mass, showing a patience and humility that made me proud. They were here, united in purpose, because they believed, and faith knows no clock.
From the altar, surrounded by screens, the Pope told the massive congregation that God “created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it.”
Though, he said, through sin, “man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.”
The people around me said they hoped the Pope’s visit would start to heal what one lady described as the “illness of the country.”
Hope for the future
Lucy Ripalda, a high school teacher said, “Our government officials should have the integrity and the wisdom to govern our country well without corruption without taking advantage of small people, the simple people.”
Seaman Joey Stefona, 55, proudly carrying a carved “Santo Nino” icon in his arm, offered another prayer. “I hope he can help with poverty, those who are having a hard time. They need jobs, better living conditions, and a better future for our children.”
As the majestic sound of the church singing echoed through the streets, I looked at the silent faces of those bowing their heads in contemplation. I could not but feel a sense of unity in the moment.
Rodolfo Gannabran, a 65-year old retired Army officer who traveled 13 hours by bus to see the Pope, said: “Today I feel there is peace and tranquility among Filipino people or any other race present here at this moment. I feel so happy. It should be carried on.”