Jan 142015

My sister Michelle had a once in a lifetime experience with Pope John Paul II during their trip to the Vatican in 1984.  

Today, along with millions of Filipinos, I welcome Pope Francis, the People’s Pope, in our country. As one of the biggest Catholic country in Asia, the Philippines is truly blessed to have the Pope visit us. This will be the first papal visit in 20 years. If you can remember, we had Pope John Paul II in 1995 to celebrate the World Youth Day. The Pope’s visit is one of the greatest blessings we will receive this year.

Months before today, the Philippines started its preparations. Aside from the responsibility of the government, different Catholic groups and organizations, and also families and individuals are eager to contribute and help in the planning and execution. When I met with Cardinal Tagle last month, I was glad to hear that there are many supporters, donors and volunteers who gave their contributions and allotted their time to be part of this.

This will be a memorable experience for all Filipinos who will have a glimpse of the Pope and be able to participate in his activities in the country. It is not every day that we have the Pope with us, so we must all do our best to participate in His Holiness’ visit. Definitely, a once in a lifetime experience.

I remembered my sisters Marie and Michelle had an opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II in 1984. Pope John Paul II first visited the Philippines in 1981. After three years, my parents Joecon and Marivic, and my sisters flew to the Vatican to hand over an album containing the Pope’s pictures during his Manila visit. My dad said that the gift was a gesture of gratitude for the Pope’s arrival in our country then. Luckily, they were able to get a good seat during the mass in Vatican. Afterwards, my sister Michelle, who was only eight years old then, was carried by Pope John Paul II himself. My sister remembered how it was a great experience to see the Pope face to face and to be carried by him.

My friend Manuel Igual also shared his story of meeting Pope Francis. Two years ago, Manuel and his wife celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by going to Italy. An aunt mentioned that Pope Francis holds a mass in the chapel inside the Domus Sanctae Marthae (Saint Martha’s House) and that they might be able to attend the said early morning mass. Since they did not have any contacts from the Vatican, they did not know how to get an invitation to the morning mass. What they did was to write a letter to the Pope requesting if they could attend the early morning mass. After some time, they received an email stating that the request was approved and was given a date and time for the mass.

They felt blessed and lucky to have a chance to meet and greet the Pope after the mass. During their short meeting, Pope Francis blessed them for their 25 years of marriage. It was a short and meaningful meeting and Manuel mentioned how humbling the experience was.

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After months of long preparation, we have come to welcome His Holiness. We welcome him with our love and prayers, joining him in his activities. The Pope’s “mercy and compassion” trip is focused on giving a message of hope for the poor, and most especially to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban. It was only last 2013 when we were struck with one of the biggest calamities we experienced. Our Pope will be visiting them and giving them the promise of hope.

Through this visit, we are reminded of the good works of our Lord.  Let us all reflect and remember that Jesus is the center of the Pope’s visit. That through Pope Francis, we are reminded of our Christian values and principles that we must always adhere to everyday.

From all the difficulties and challenges we are facing today, let this be our chance to reflect. Let us remember the values he has taught and apply it to our lives. We are not simply an audience in the Papal’s visit, we must take an action to be part of it. This will surely strengthen our faith and straighten paths in our lives.

I pray and hope that everything will go as planned.  I pray that Pope Francis will experience the genuine Filipino love and hospitality during his visit. But most importantly, I hope that after the Pope’s visit, Filipinos will still continue their spiritual growth and apply the values they have learned.

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