In a press conference at the Arzobispado de Manila on Friday evening, Cardinal Tagle announced the Pope’s schedule and itinerary for the apostolic visit in January 2015.
The Pope is coming! What a joy! But, how do I get to meet the Pope? Are there requirements? Is there a ticket? What should I do? How do I prepare?
Our bishops have told us: THERE ARE NO TICKETS! I hope you don’t fall into the trap of buying a ticket, to ensure you get a privileged seat. Certain events are closed-door-meetings where the Pope specifically requested whom to meet. The Mass at the Luneta and at the Tacloban airport are open to everyone. He will travel by motorcade from one venue to another, so there is a big chance to get a glimpse of him. He might even stop right in front of you to shake your hand or give you a hug.
I had the chance to see Pope Francis in person when I went to Rome for a meeting in September this year. Upon arrival, we immediately went to St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus. As I listened to him exhorting everyone to love and to trust in God’s love, I couldn’t help but recall the many times I stood on the same spot listening to two previous popes when I was missioned in Rome.
I saw Pope John Paul II as a young sister representing the Daughters of St. Paul to welcome him at the airport when he came to the Philippines in 1995. I was also among the millions in Luneta for the Mass and World Youth Day celebrations. Little did I know then that I would have the chance to meet the Holy Father up close and personal, not just once but twice.
The first time was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. Our father Founder, Fr. James Alberione was beatified in April 2003, barely a few months from my arrival in the eternal city. I not only witnessed the beatification rites but I also represented the FSPs at the offertory procession during the Mass at St. Peter’s Square and handed the Pope a beautiful Lectionary.
I practiced and memorized what I wanted to tell the Pope once I get near him, but I was so overwhelmed and awed by his presence. I was dumbfounded. I could not speak a word. He then made a sign of the cross on my forehead and gave me a rosary. His aura was such that one forgets everything. He exuded Jesus’ unconditional love and I felt God’s presence embracing me.
The second time, I went with a group of Pauline students who had a private audience with the Pope. When he was told I am from the Philippines, JP II said something like “I love the Philippines, and the Filipinos!” I thought I’d fare better and ask the Pope to pray for the many intentions of my family and friends. But I could only smile – and he smiled back. What a grace! What a privilege! And now he is a Saint!
Despite JPII’s charisma and popularity, his appeal to the young and his devotion to Our Lady, his simplicity and openness, something else made a mark on me. It is the power in weakness. His body was ravaged by disease, his hands tremulous and his voice hardly understandable. I saw a man, the highest leader of the Church, reduced to his fragile humanity. He embraced weakness with simplicity and courage. He continued to pray, to inspire people, to encourage and to build bridges. He held on to his office of blessing lives and showed us that through the shell of our fragility, sickness, and sinfulness, God dwells and works miracles.
On the night he died, we were at Piazza San Pietro. We just finished praying the rosary when a deep and quiet calm pervaded the grounds. No one said anything. Simply silence. For about a minute. And then the announcement that he was no more. Some were stunned, others started to weep and shed quiet tears.
Pope John Paul II taught me by his words and by his life, that God’s power reaches perfection in weakness, as St. Paul told the Corinthians.
So, how do you meet the pope? You think there are steps? Well, yes. You have to be physically present where he is. How that comes about though is not a step but grace.
As with everything in life, we discover how true the words of St. Paul: ALL IS GRACE. In my experience, circumstances somehow converged to grant my secret desire. In the economy of grace, nothing is impossible for one who prays and hopes. Not even for a batang-Tundo.
One of the best ways to experience anything is to prepare for it. So, below are some resources prepared by the Central Committee to help us be ready for the Pope’s visit. Read, pray and share with others. You might be surprised by Grace!