Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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At Large

The grace of family, the grace of Pope Francis

There are many ways to appreciate the dramatic—maybe even melodramatic—story of the founding of Sen. Grace Poe in a church in Iloilo. The baby supposedly left near the baptismal font in Jaro Church was discovered by a housemaid of a prominent Jaro family who turned the baby over to a wealthy single woman who then decided she would best be raised by her friends, the childless couple and cinema superstars Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr.

One approach was that taken by UNA spokesman Rep. Toby Tiangco, who used the fact that no one knew (or would come forward) about who Poe’s natural parents were to question her citizenship and thus her qualification to run for president.

Another approach, one taken by many, was to marvel at the vagaries of fate, to reflect on how, despite her beginnings, the senator grew up beloved and raised well by her parents, repaying them in kind by maturing into an intelligent, level-headed public servant.

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Vice President Jojo Binay took the most unique tack, declaring that he, too, had been orphaned as a child (he was raised by an uncle) and understood Poe’s situation.

* * *

The senator herself told the media she was pursuing the search for her natural parents not just to erase all doubts about her origins, but also because she was doing it for the sake of all foundlings. If she allowed the speculations to continue, she said, “just because they are foundlings [does it mean] that they can only contribute so much to society?”

She reminded her critics that if a child is found abandoned, the state takes over his or her parentage, and “the child takes the citizenship of the state.”

I can’t imagine a better campaign spiel: I am all your children, a child of the state.

If for nothing else, by driving the senator to go on an active search for her family of origin, her critics have done a signal service for all children bereft of parents or natural family. For even if she fails, Sen. Grace Poe would have established in the public’s mind the legitimacy and equal worth of children born outside of the parameters of the “normal” family.

* * *

There were many images, many moments, that were seared into our consciousness in the days Pope Francis was in our presence last January.

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There was the moment a young girl, Glyzelle Palomar, confronted not just the Pope but all adults, posing a question none of us could answer: “Why is God allowing such things to happen, even if it is not the fault of the children?” All the Pontiff had to offer by way of an answer was silence, the same reflective silence he offered the people of Tacloban and environs when he came to visit with them on a wet, stormy day.

But there were, as well, the images of exuberant welcome, the joyful noise that Filipinos made everywhere they saw a glimpse of the Pope, onboard his Popemobile, or onstage at the various events he met with the faithful.

There was also that intimate moment, recalled by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, when, standing at the foot of the stairs of the Nunciature, he was greeted by the Pope with a question: “How are your parents?” The Cardinal was stunned by the greeting, not really expecting it, but touched because, he explains, “it was very personal; I felt he really wanted to know how my parents were.”

From the grand and awe-inspiring, to the touching and intimate. These are two views of the Pope’s visit last January provided by the first book to document, in words, pictures, feelings and thoughts what happened during those five days. “I am here … to be with you” were words uttered by Pope Francis before the gathered throng of survivors of “Yolanda” at the Tacloban airport. But in using them for the title of this book on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis, the producers of the volume seem to say that these were words directed, as well, to all the Filipino people that they may take strength and empathy from his presence.

* * *

The main narrative of the book is given by Cardinal Tagle, who provides not just a broad sweep of the events of those five days but also, more importantly, an intimate look of the person that the Pope is, away from the noisy crowds and the demands of protocol.

I was especially touched by the Cardinal’s account of the visit paid on the Pope by the father of Kristel Mae Padasas, a volunteer at the Pope’s Tacloban Mass, who was killed by scaffolding felled by strong winds. It was unscheduled and unexpected, and the encounter between the Pontiff and the grieving father who lost his only child was fraught with emotion. But it was also a moment when “the supreme teacher was also the supreme student,” with the Pope grasping the simplicity and depth of faith shown by Kristel’s father.

Apart from the Cardinal’s account, and the photos shot by a team of both professional and amateur photographers mobilized by long-time Church photographer Noli Yamsuan, conveying both the bigger implications and the meaningful reflections of the Pope’s visit are Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Soc Villegas, former UST Rector Fr. Roland dela Rosa, Archbishop John Du of Leyte, with an introduction by Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ. Lito Zulueta of the Inquirer provided as well tidbits on the reactions of otherwise hard-boiled journalists travelling with the Pope on his visits to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Peachy E. Yamsuan was the editorial coordinator, and Jesselynn Garcia dela Cruz the editor. “I am here … to be with you” was put out by Katha Publishing and is available in Goodwill Bookstores and other outlets.

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TAGS: foundling, Glyzelle Palomar, Grace Poe, Kristel Mae Padasas, Papal visit, Pope Francis
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