From the time the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines announced that Pope Francis, the Supreme Pontiff and revered leader of the Roman Catholic Church, would visit the Philippines from January 15-19 this year, the whole country has been in a state of jubilation.
The theme of his trip was “Mercy and Compassion” and the most important in the itinerary was to see the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, Leyte. The Holy Father also met representatives from the government, the clergy and the religious, the family, youth and leaders of other faiths in Metro Manila.
Preparations for the pope’s visit were very intense especially in the aspect of liturgy, security, facilities preparation, crowd management, transportation and others.
Given the tight security on the Holy Father and the throng of people who wanted to catch even just a glimpse of him, I, on my part, would have wanted to see him although I conditioned myself that I might not be able to.
It was also noteworthy that I was in the seminary and there was no indication that the Holy Father would pass by the Edsa-Guadalupe area.
But, God is a God of surprises. A few days before the arrival of the Holy Father, I was informed by my classmate in San Carlos Seminary Graduate School of Theology that I was included as one of servers in the Papal Mass in the Manila Cathedral on January 16. My task was to help in the vesting of the cardinal or bishop concelebrants which included Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop Socrates Villegas and many more.
Being there in that very historic event was such a great blessing. That opportunity could have been given to another seminarian or someone from the religious. However, God, in His mysterious reasons, chose to give that chance to me. It was very overwhelming.
Seeing the Pope was really electrifying. I can still recall that spine-tingling sensation when I saw the Pope enter the cathedral. I was very touched with his love, enthusiasm and concern as he reached out to the elderly priests and the religious nuns.
Considering his age, his visit to Sri Lanka before the Philippines, the tight schedule and all, it must have been tiring for the Pope. But how can the Pope choose to rest and sit comfortably when all of his beloved people have come out, braved the rain, lined the streets for hours – all those inconvenience just to catch a glimpse of him who embodies God’s mercy and compassion to the poor? That may be the only time these people will ever see him in their whole lifetime. The Holy Father matched their dedication with his own effort to radiate God’s love to them by looking, waving and smiling at them.
The example of the Holy Father reminds me that people are longing for signs of God’s love and mercy. The identity and ministry of a priest entails bringing God’s mercy and compassion with energy, enthusiasm and zeal. There might be tiring moments. But God will definitely be loving and merciful in sustaining His beloved until the mission is complete.