MANILA, Philippines—Known for his humility, Pope Francis has been dubbed “The People’s Pope” by the media and a “rock star” by many of his worshippers.
But what has made the 78-year-old Pope so popular in barely two years in the papacy that even a simple act or random photos of him mingling with people immediately go viral on social media?
INQUIRER.net has culled some of these stories to give Filipinos a glimpse of the Pope who is set to arrive in the country on Thursday for a five-day trip.
First ‘papal selfie’
Five months after he assumed the papacy in March 2013, international media reported what they described as the first “papal selfie” as a photo of the Pope with young people inside the Vatican went viral on social media in August 2013.
Embracing a disfigured man
The social media was abuzz again in early November 2013 with another photo of the Pope, this time showing him embracing a severely disfigured man in Vatican City.
Breaking the long-standing papal tradition, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a dozen of disabled people, including women and non-Catholics, in April, 2014. Citing Vatican’s own regulations, media reported that the ritual should be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men.
Surprise phone calls
It was also in August 2013 when the media reported about an Italian teenager who claimed to have received a phone call from the Pope himself.
“Hello, it’s Pope Francis here,” then 19-year-old Stefano Cabizza was quoted in the media as he narrated his eight-minute conversation with the Pope.
The unexpected call came after Cabiza reportedly wrote a letter to the then newly elected Pope in which he described his life and expressed hopes that he would find a job at the end of his studies.
On Christmas Eve last year, the Pope also reportedly made a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants.
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), also had his own anecdotes about the Pope.
During the Inquirer Conversations forum held at University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Monday, Villegas recalled how Pope Francis joined him and other bishops during a coffee break, drank coffee from plastic glasses, and lined up to get his own sandwich.
“During the coffee break, ordinarily the popes will have their own sections for their snacks, but this Pope joined us at the coffee break and drank his coffee from our plastic glasses,” Villegas said.
“I was taking too long in the buffet of the sandwiches so I did not know who was behind me. I saw a white hand and a white robe,” said Villegas in a mix of Filipino and English, noting “siya (Pope Francis) lang naman ang may puting sutana doon sa room (he’s the only one wearing a white robe in the room).”
“I had to step aside. Sabi ko, ‘Pope ito, sumisingit! Kumukuha ng sandwiches sa kinukuhanan ko (I thought, the Pope is cutting in line! He wants to get sandwiches on our buffet table).’ This is him,” Villegas said of the Pope.
One time, Villegas said, he and another bishop were surprised to see the Pope arriving early for a 10 a.m. scheduled meeting with Asian bishops.
“The Asian bishops were not there because it’s not yet 10 o’clock. The Pope arrived at 9:35. Cardinal Chito (Tagle), one Asian bishop and I were the only ones present in the lobby. So we had to entertain him and talk to him. He cracked jokes with us,” Villegas said in Filipino.
“When the Archbishop of Kazakhstan arrived, he was so bothered and said ‘Soc, I am so disturbed.’ Sabi ko, ‘Why?’ ‘Because the Pope should not be waiting for us. I think it was very bad manners for us not to have come earlier. I think we owe him an apology.”
Villegas said the Kazakhstan Archbishop then went to the Pope to apologize, saying the latter should not be waiting for the bishops.
“The Pope said to him: ‘Oh, don’t worry. The Eternal Father in Heaven has been waiting for you for a long time,’” the CBCP chief said.
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