Papal Visit 2015.

This might end up like as a post of scattered thoughts because I don't know where to begin. What I do know is that I want to document and share my experience attending the Concluding Mass of Pope Francis in Quirino Grandstand and Luneta Park.

Flashback to 1995.   Pope John Paul II went to Manila for World Youth Day.  I remember watching him on television and didn't want to do anything else.  I cried.. I smiled.. The feeling was indescribable! Until now I still wonder why we didn't go to Roxas Boulevard, especially since we had a place in that area, to see the Pope in person. 

Twenty years later, it hit the news that the new Pope was scheduling a visit to the Philippines.  Pope Francis who has everyone awed from his colorful pre-papal history (he worked as a bouncer and admitted to being dazzled by a young lady during his days as a seminarian) to his interesting stands on controversial issues (gender identity, annulment, climate change, atheists and other religions). I wanted to see him but I didn't know how or when.

All I had left was prayer.  I prayed and prayed and as Pope Francis' visit drew near, my prayer was answered.  I was honestly surprised!  A combination of circumstances which, without going into details but I'll call 'the silver lining', led me to passes for the Concluding Mass on the Pope's last full day in Manila.  But I wasn't prepared for what was about to happen next.

Me and T at the Quirino Grandstand and the stage behind us is where the Pope will celebrate mass.

I have been sick for three weeks already (I don't know what kind of bug I got) but come Friday, I thought I was already feeling better.   My nose was clearing up and my fever was gone.

The next day, however, I almost couldn't breathe because I kept sneezing again and again.  T thought it was just an allergic reaction to the flowers in my house so we threw them away and bought allergy medicine.  I drank it and yet I still wouldn't stop sneezing.  During dinner at T's house later that day, I started coughing and getting the chills.  It was at that moment that I knew I had the flu again. Yes, the night before the Papal Mass.  What timing.

But by hook or by crook, I told T that we were going to Quirino Grandstand the next day.  I took the bar exam with a 41-degree fever (although I did get hospitalized on the second week of the bar) so I can do this! Went home, fixed my things, and set my alarm for 7am.

As expected, I didn't wake up to the sound of the alarm.  I hurriedly prepared to leave, hoping we wouldn't run into any traffic but cars were already everywhere and traffic was building up.   Roxas Boulevard was already closed so T parked around the area of One Esplanade and decided to walk to Luneta.   That's kind of far but our best (and probably only) bet.

Only a few hours left before the Papal Mass and I was panicking, worrying that we wouldn't make it.  It was raining hard and we were still kilometers away from Luneta.

When we got to Roxas Boulevard, it was already filled with people, making it harder to walk faster or in a straight line.  I was feeling weak but we had to hurry or we wouldn't make it.  Finally, I saw the Philippine flag which was a landmark of Luneta.  But still T and I couldn't get through!

There were already hundreds (or even thousands!) of people surrounding Luneta Park making it impossible for us to reach Quirino Grandstand, where our seats were.  And as time passed, more and more people came in so we got pushed even deeper into the crowd until we could not move.   When we asked some people to give us space so we could cross to the other side where our entrance was, they were nice enough to let us pass but it was really physically impossible.   I was surprised at everyone's kindness given the circumstances although there was this woman who was trying to pick a fight and claimed that she had a pass too (which I doubt) but she's not trying to get in like us.  People around her looked at us apologetically so I told T that we better get out and find some other place.

I kept looking at my watch because it took us a while to get away from the crowd.  There were still a few hours left before the mass starts but our chances of getting to Quirino Grandstand were getting slimmer by the minute.

T and I walked away from Luneta but there were already tons of people on the island separating the north and south roads of Roxas Boulevard.  Panic mode. We just needed to get to the other side!

I almost gave up until I saw a line of policemen trying to get through the crowd towards our destination.  I talked to one of them and he said to stay close.  I don't remember much because I was so scared.  There were people stepping on my feet, pushing me, shouting at each other.  The crowd was getting a bit unruly.  One person even screamed at the police that she was there since this morning so how come the police get to go past her.  The police answered back which was understandable since they have had no sleep and little food for the past few days.

Then for some absurd reason, a person in front of the crowd opened an umbrella!  Umbrellas were not allowed because of security reasons and because it blocks people's views.  That made the crowd even angrier.  As the police pushed through the crowd, I kept saying sorry for fear of starting a stampede.  I was moving without walking. Fortunately, I'm taller than everyone else so my face didn't end up being plastered on someone else's back.  Remember in my Looking Back at 2014 post when I wrote about how I rode the MRT during rush hour and a storm?  That was nothing compared to this.

Finally, when we were almost at the end of the line, the police just grabbed my legs and lifted me over people and threw me to the other side of the road where the police human barricade was.   Good thing, I was alert and landed on my feet.  I crossed the street hurriedly, almost in tears, and looked for T.  I saw the police doing the same to him and he landed on his feet as well.

As we ran towards Quirino Grandstand, I thanked God for keeping us safe from harm and allowing us to reach our destination.  I looked at my watch and we still had a few hours left before the mass started.

It rained the whole day.  Our area was not that crowded so I began to feel cold especially since I had the flu.   When T was taking this photo, I didn't realize that I was clenching my fists that hard. 

This is the reason why I am grateful for Father Hans Magdurulang or who they call the "Luneta Emcee".  I don't know why the netizens started bullying him online.   He kept the crowd at bay.  I daresay that because of his jokes and pakulos, he prevented riots or stampedes from happening.  He kept us warm by making us stand up, dance, and do the Papal Wave.

And to be fair to him, Father Hans did all of these before the mass.  In fact, he repeatedly reminded us that the mass is a sacred celebration and that we should remain quiet and avoid taking out our cameras or cellphones to take photos of the Pope when the mass starts.  So please, cut him some slack.

As you can see around us, people were wearing jackets, garbage bags over their heads, plastic covers, raincoats.. And yet everyone was still shaking from the cold.  I felt bad for the guy in front of me wearing the aqua blue shirt.  He was the only one with no rain gear (or even one that purports to be one) on and was shivering the whole time.

Everyone was eagerly waiting for the Pope's arrival.  So when a vehicle came that looked like the popemobile, everyone cheered.  You can even see everyone's hands raised up but it's just the backup car.  Father Hans joked that we were all too excited and that was just 'practice'.  Everyone laughed and took their seats.

Finally, Pope Francis arrived.  He went through our area but I wasn't able to take a photo because I was shouting and crying.

When it comes to current events and political issues, I always talk to one of my best friends, Ara Sam.  She is always updated with international and local news and we exchange notes and our thoughts on the subject at hand.  I remember talking to her about EDSA DOS, 9/11, the impeachment trial of Justice Corona, and most recently, of course, the visit of Pope Francis.

This is an excerpt from her article entitled "The Pope Francis Effect" published by CNN which accurately describes how everyone felt that day:

"The anticipation of his arrival will keep you restless for hours – as you stand in the busy and packed streets of Manila. Not knowing what will transpire and how it will unfold – you will slowly feel the tension build up. Waiting and wishing you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of him – even for a few seconds. Someone you haven’t seen in the flesh – and yet, your mind, heart and soul longs for him."

Pope Francis was supposed to go directly to Quirino Grandstand but he said that he wanted to go around Luneta Park first to see the people.  Although dark and grainy (since I took this with my phone inside a plastic waterproof case I brought just in case), this is one of my favorite photos because you can see the Pope and the Philippine flag in one frame.

After Pope Francis made his rounds in Luneta, it was time for the Concluding Mass.  Father Hans reminded everyone, even the priests, to refrain from taking photos but when will I get this close to the Pope again while he is celebrating mass?  

It was a beautiful and solemn ceremony.  We ended with everyone lighting candles, swaying, and singing the 1995 World Youth Day song "Tell The World of His Love".   A lot of people were in tears, including myself.  I felt blessed to be one of six million people who witnessed this.  The largest congregation in history.

After Pope Francis left the stage, I told T that we better start walking back since there are millions of people heading the same direction and it was sure to get crazy!

When we were almost at the exit gates along Kalaw, Father Hans announced that the Pope wanted to see everyone again so he will be going around Luneta one more time.   Everyone cheered!  No one expected this.  I didn't expect this.  I thought the Pope would be tired from his full day and I'm sure that he was but he still decided to see us.

I rarely use this phrase but I think it is appropriate now.  I feel blessed.. We Filipinos are all blessed that the Pope has chosen to visit the Philippines.  I truly believe that a glimpse of Pope Francis even just for a few seconds will leave a mark for life.

This is a video taken by T during Pope Francis' rounds after the mass.  

T and I were the last persons in the sea of people because we were positioned at the end of the route.  There was no one on my right side anymore except two policemen so I was scared that Pope Francis would not look at our side when he passed since there were people on the opposite side.

I do not know if I was the one screaming in the video "Popeeeee! Popeeeee!" five seconds into the video, but what I do know was that I was hoping and praying that he would look at us. I wanted to see his face, I wanted to see that smile that everyone was talking about.   And he did!  He looked and smiled.  I'm not sure if this is just wishful thinking but we made eye contact (see the previous photo).  I cried for the nth time that day.  This experience definitely left a mark for life.

What you just read is probably not even half of the hardships that people had to endure to see Pope Francis.   Some have traveled from far flung places, most had to stay overnight in Luneta.  But like I said, I wanted to share my story and document it for me and for everyone else who is interested in my experience seeing the Pope.

I'm going to end this post with the caption I wrote on my first photo of the Pope...

"Walked for more than 10 kilometers, was squashed and pushed by people, shivered for hours under the rain, and the chills because of the flu.. And yet I could say that this is one of the BEST days of my life.  Thank you Pope Francis. We love you!"

Viva Il Papa!

Note: All images in this blog post were taken by me or T. Before using it for any purpose, please email me (my email address is notably visible on the right sidebar) and ask for my permission. 

Initially, I had second thoughts about mentioning this given the subject of the post but just recently, an editor used my photos and my words from another blog post without my knowledge. Someone (yes, he did not even try to contact me after he learned that I knew about what he did) told me later on that the editor's excuse was that he just saw my blog post and photos "waiting to be picked up in Google". I don't know how one can become an editor (or a writer for that matter) with that kind of philosophy but this isn't the point of this post. Just wanted to explain why I felt the need to add this notation.  

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