Pope of many questions
Glyzelle Palomar, a 12-year-old former street kid who is now with Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation, asked Pope Francis in his meeting with the youth about being homeless and being exposed to drugs and prostitution at an early age: “Why does God allow this to happen and why are there only a few people who help us?” she said tearfully in Filipino. Hers was the shortest speech I heard during the entire papal visit, and hers was the question that left Filipinos speechless and feeling guilty and sorry.
On the morning of Nov. 8, 2013, the mother of Irene Pedrosa was busy cooking breakfast for evacuees in the barangay shelter. That would be the last meal she prepared. Irene, 24, of Palo, Leyte, told Lourd de Veyra in his “Yolanda” anniversary feature for Esquire magazine: “I’m just asking, of all places … why this one? Why us?”
And then there is—or, to be accurate, was—Kristel Mae Padasas, a 27-year-old church volunteer who died after Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Tacloban, when a piece of scaffolding shaken by gusts of wind fell on her. Kristel survived the supertyphoon in 2013 that had moved the Pope to decide to visit the Philippines. After 14 months, she died because of another storm, ironically when the Pope was finally here.
All these made me think: Did Leyte not have enough suffering already?
The strong winds of “Amang” forced the Pope and his entourage to leave Tacloban by 1 p.m., or four hours earlier than scheduled. Given his so-brief period of time there, let me rephrase my question to: “Did Leyte have enough of the Pope?”
His much anticipated and celebrated visit to our country has been full of questions. Sure, there were millions of faithful waiting for him in the streets, which probably pleased the world audience, but I am left wondering: Amid the euphoria, the frenzy in social media, and the security concerns, were Filipinos able to listen to the voices that needed to be heard? Of course, I am not simply referring to the Pope’s voice.
His Holiness, as humble as he is, tried his best to answer the faithful’s questions and more by saying that we should learn how to weep again (in essence, to be merciful and compassionate); to take care of the needy and the poor; and to protect our families and children, among other quotable quotes. He also challenged Filipinos to be the foremost missionaries of God’s love in Asia and in the world—a challenge we eagerly accepted both out of faith and sheer hospitality to a foreign dignitary.
But before we even dwell on the Pope’s “Chicken Soup for Faithful Filipinos,” I believe that we must first reflect on what he said in Tacloban: that he did not know what to say to the pilgrims because of the pain and loss that they had endured. He also said at the University of Santo Tomas that Glyzelle’s question had left us all clueless. He, the Vicar of Christ on earth, acknowledged that sometimes words are no solutions to our situation, only love, mercy and compassion. These values transcend language, religion, race.
As Catholics, we are lucky to have a “human” pope—a man whose humility, humor, energy and spontaneity have inspired millions to revisit their faith and standards of living. He is a pope who challenges the status quo and includes the excluded. For these and more, I am honestly sad that Filipinos in Metro Manila had way more time with him than those in Leyte.
To be sure, the National Capital Region is a center of urban poverty and a materialistic, secular society. But I wanted the Pope to have spent more time with the people who suffered and are still suffering from the devastation wrought by Yolanda. I definitely wanted to see him with the survivors in Leyte for more than 12 hours. If I had my way, they would have had him with them for the rest of his visit, not necessarily because we want to, but because they needed him more. I would have wanted him to go around in his popemobile, in the poorest streets of Palo and Tacloban, so he could have a clearer picture of what to pray for because I know that he is closer to God than any of us.
While the Visayas needs the help of the government, civic groups and lay people to fully recover from the catastrophe, I think it also needs a promoter in heaven so God can put it among the “urgent deliverables.”
There is no one to be blamed for the Pope’s abbreviated time in Leyte except the weather. Fine. But what I will always feel sorry for is that he came to the Philippines for the poor and the distressed, most especially the survivors of Yolanda, but he had only part of a morning, a brief lunch, and not even an hour in the afternoon to spend with them.
I believe our kababayan in the Visayas needed to see the Pope more, and he also needed to hear more of their stories and answer their questions. But I am not confident that the people in Metro Manila would care enough for this position. After all, many Filipinos wanted a minute of the Pope’s presence because they may be suffering in varying degrees and they wanted to hold on to him to ease their burden. Besides, as the Pope himself has said, “Who am I to judge?”
Please do not get me wrong. I felt genuinely joyful and fulfilled when I saw him in person. It is a story I will endlessly share with my posterity. But perhaps this is the effect that the papal visit had on me: to cut short on the euphoria and reflect on the “reason for the season.” I can’t help but wonder: Was the Pope smiling because of the sheer number of his welcomers or because he believed that in some ways, these thousands, millions, could help him in his mission to tell the world of God’s love?
Surely it is the latter. Huge is the responsibility of people like me, like us, to tell the world of His love. It’s vague enough for a song, what more for a life purpose?
As long as I know my pope is a human pope who demands, not perfection, but heartfelt compassion, I can probably be one of his mission aides. For now I will take baby steps. Perhaps praying for the survivors of calamities, reading more news and updates about them, scheduling a visit to Leyte, or visiting Glyzelle at Tulay ng Kabataan with some gifts to cheer her up will do. Or perhaps I can let myself weep while I witness the beauty of humanity and all the good things that hope gives us. Why not?
Rossielle Manicad, 23, works in a public relations agency in Makati and writes more reflections at whenpencilwrites.blogspot.com.
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