Pope Francis the comms genius

So far, everything that Pope Francis did in the Philippines was dramatic. Not madrama — as in the negative, theatrical type — but one wherein all of us are caught up in spontaneous awe, admiration, and astonishment. Recall the humor in his homily at the Manila Cathedral; the heartwarming scene at the orphanage; his heroic forbearance over our president’s whiny speech.

But his Tacloban visit was beyond dramatic and beyond symbolic: He was actually there in the wind and rain! If typhoon Yolanda’s strength had been off the scales, so was Pope Francis’ determination to be with the typhoon victims. I mean, the ongoing tropical storm Amang is serious! The skidding of the government officials’ plane demonstrated the potential danger the Pope faced.

And the Holy Father’s loss for words during his off-the-cuff homily — “So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you.” This to me is his most eloquent line so far. Because, really, in tragedies, silent presence is more powerful and comforting than words.

Taclobanons wait for Pope Francis amid rain and wind. (Screengrab from Rappler. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA)
Taclobanons wait for Pope Francis amid rain and wind. (Screengrab from Rappler. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA)

All this leads me to cement my conclusion that Pope Francis is a communications genius, whose goals heaven is all too earth-bent to grant. The Holy Father intends to do something, he does it, and he gets what he wants (with rain allowed by God, for effect). The words (or lack thereof), the gestures, the facial expression, the overall aura, lahat perfect! You can sense God wanting to draw us to Himself through the Pope.

And I’m not a fan of protocol-breaking, but it seems like the Holy Father always gets lucky — or, rather, hashtag #blessed. When he does his activities, he deviates a bit from the plan, and still all ends well. He has the heftiest grace of state, after all.

Featured image by Johannes Eisele / AP

Like an apparition

I’m lucky I also got to meet then-Pope Benedict XVI in Rome some years back. I remember becoming speechless and breathless the first time I saw him. All I managed to do was hyperventilate small prayers — in utter awe that right in front of me was the man I regularly prayed for in a special way, the visible head of the Church, our father on the journey towards heaven!

It was the same with Pope Francis.

Three hours after waiting for the Holy Father on Quirino Avenue (a few meters from the Taft Avenue intersection), finally the Pope’s convoy was on its way towards me. The crowd was already in a frenzy. The chant “Lolo Kiko, Lolo Kiko, te queremos mucho!” which had been taught to us half an hour ago, got lost into the deafening “Hooooo! Pope Franciiiissss!” Typical Pinoy cheer.

And then there he was. Like an apparition. Lights blue and red and white flashed before me: the police on motorcycles. Then more lights, in increasing intensity. And then there was Helios’ chariot carrying the sun: the Pope in his popemobile.

Mini-heart attack. Shutdown of the lungs. Then a Hail Mary that got lost into a shout — “Father!” — as the white celestial vehicle dissolved into the distance, into the Taft crowd that was once an avenue…

The Holy Father looked very happy. The aura he radiated was that of a grandfather saying, “Yes, my children, here I am. I’m very glad to finally see you all!”

And so, today I now have a clip I can watch when I need some spiritual boost. Here is the Successor of St Peter, or, as St Catherine of Siena would say with the tenderest of filial affection, the “sweet Christ on earth!”

Watch the video of my first encounter with Pope Francis »

How to get a better view of the Pope (or, Lessons from a desperate Pope-abanger)

My dream in this papal visit is that of kissing the Holy Father’s ring, shaking his hands, and having a brief conversation with him with the following dialogue sequence:

Me (in tears): Blah blah

Pope Francis (amused smile): Blah blah

Me (in tears): Blah blah

Pope Francis (reassuring smile): Blah blah

And so, to make that dream come true in the concluding Mass, I have to aim at getting there on the first row, in the area where the Holy Father is most likely to linger and greet people.

I’m sure we share the same dream.

Perhaps yours has embellishments I can do without — hugging, Rosary-showing, selfie-ing. But we both have to remember certain things that I learned (the hard way) about waiting and getting at least a good view of the Pope:

1. Be early. Be very early.

Being at the venue four hours ahead of time won’t cut it. I arrived at the Manila Cathedral grounds at 6:45 am, and there were already hundreds packed around the building fronting the cathedral. And the Mass there was still at 11:30!

People already packed around the cathedral as early as 6 am!

2. Take an energy drink.

I took the popular, serpentine, yellow one. 😉 Paired with bread (carbohydrates for energy!), it’s quite effective. From Paco, I trekked to Intramuros, stood there for the waiting and the Mass, and hiked back to Paco eight hours later. I’m still alive.

3. Bring a hat.

This should cover your face from the sun — or the rain (which happened right after the Manila Cathedral Mass). The foldable type is better, since you can pocket it if you’re not using it anymore. Oh, and all types of umbrellas are prohibited.

4. Use long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

Your arms and legs will thank you for not subjecting them to sunburn, plant thorns, bugs, and other people’s sweat. To avoid heat, make sure your clothes are made of light materials, like cotton and polyester. Also guarantee yourself a seat by wearing pants that would not make you worry about sitting on the ground.

Sitting, waiting
Sitting, waiting

5. Use sneakers.

As the crowd thickened, I heard women shriek in pain as their sandal-clad feet were stepped on. Light rubber shoes are the best.

6. Use a transparent/translucent sling bag.

Backpacks and opaque sling bags are prohibited; they are always suspect for hidden weapons. Using a sling bag is convenient because it allows you to move both hands freely. Your two hands are most useful when you’ll have to cross barricades. (The police have this method of initially holding the crowds behind the barricades. But later on they would allow them to cross and get nearer the Pope’s route.)

AFP officers guarded the barricade, which they would soon abandon, lettomg people pour into Plaza Roma.
Air Force officers guarded the barricade, which they would soon abandon, letting people pour into Plaza Roma.

7. Bodily dump has to be dumped before going to the venue.

You know what I mean. 😉

8. Bring your Rosary.

You’ll have all the time to pray all the mysteries.

9. Minimize your movement.

Moving a lot will make you perspire easily. With comfortable clothes and minimized movement, you will survive without a fan (fortunately, the weather nowadays is quite cloudy and windy).

10. Know the exits.

Good luck and see you at Luneta! (Maybe.)

Please don’t pass around the Sacred Host!

The heartbreaking footnote to this otherwise euphoric papal visit is at least one instance of losing refinement and respect to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Sadder still, because it was instigated (or at least tolerated) by some Communion ministers.

Outside the Manila Cathedral, during Holy Communion of the Holy Father’s Mass with the clergy and the religious, at least two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (a nun and a monk?) pushed into the crowd to distribute the Consecrated Host. While not entirely proper, this should be tolerable. But what happened next was appalling.

Some of the crowd — who were at least two meters away from the ministers — cried for Holy Communion. Two or three soon called out, “Pasa-pasa nalang! (Just pass Them [the Sacred Hosts] around!)”

At first the ministers did not hear them, or probably ignored it. But the people were beginning to be noisy. Some of crowd, fortunately, said, “Uy, hindi pwedeng pasa-pasa! Komunyon yan!

But the ministers were rather oblivious to the “debate.” Soon they DID pass around — from one grubby hand to another — the Sacred Hosts to the people who were asking for Communion. I saw one broken Host being handed on. Did the minister break It, or was It broken as It was being passed around? Worse, even the ciborium containing the Hosts was soon passed around!

Too distressed to bear the sight, I looked away. I was also unable to take better photos or videos.

About five minutes later, the crowd was satisfied, with the ministers still looking clueless about what they just did.

This utter irreverence to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament must not happen again. We wouldn’t want the Holy Father to be lifted and tossed and passed around like a plaything or some relief good; much less would we want the Lord of the Popes and the Universe to be disrespected in like manner.

There might have been good intention on the part of the ministers and the communicants during the “pasa-pasa” incident. But that particular way of distributing Holy Communion simply lacked respect, even love.

I’m deeply grateful to the organizers of the papal visit, but I wish that they could do something to avoid such and all kinds of Eucharistic abuse, especially in the concluding Mass on Sunday. Suggestion: tell all priests and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to stay in their assigned places, making sure that no Host is passed around (because, who knows where or in whose hands They might end up?).

I also hope that we all see that we’d be missing the point if we’re all too excited about the Holy Father’s visit, but forget to grow in love for Christ who daily visits us in the Holy Eucharist.

Oh, and viva el Papa! 🙂

Weird and weirder gifts

There’s this buzz about Pope Francis receiving an ostrich egg during his visit here.

Some people reacted, asking if the Pope could be given something better, something “solid and sturdy.” After all, he is the successor of St Peter, the Rock; you know how eggs are.

In fairness to the ostrich egg, though, it’s actually a work of art. Using leaves from trees felled by typhoon Yolanda in 2013, artist Fernando “Pando” Manipon created a delicate mosaic out of the leaves, depicting St Peter’s Basilica on the egg’s convex surface.

Compare this with the garden seeds US President Barack Obama gave to His Holiness last year. I mean, seeds, for Pete’s sake! 😛


Header image: screenshot from inquirer.net. Obama image: screenshot from a BBC webpage.

Sinulog at the papal visit

When I learned that the papal visit would be in mid-January, I knew immediately it would coincide with the feast of the Santo Nino — Sinulog.

Celebrated in Cebu City every third Sunday of January, the feast celebrates the royal childhood of Jesus Christ, as seen in the antique image of the Santo Nino. It also commemorates the acceptance of Christianity by Filipinos, particularly Cebuanos. Explorer Ferdinand Magellan gave the image to the king and queen of Cebu (then Zugbu). In her great joy, Queen Amihan danced with the image in her hands, thus starting the Sinulog dance.

And I’ve never attended the Sinulog. So I was hoping I could attend the one for this year and, at the same time, meet Pope Francis there in Cebu. I thought, wouldn’t it be grandest if the Pope could also celebrate Sinulog? But that was not to be.

Instead I read this, talking about the Pope’s concluding Mass on January 18:

As the event falls on the third Sunday of January, the Feast of the Sto. Nino, devotees from the Archdiocese of Cebu will lead people in a Sinulog rhythm before the Mass.

“Those who will attend are requested to bring image of Sto. Nino to join the Sinulog dance,” said Fr. Carmelo Arada Jr., who is in charge of liturgy for the papal visit. (Source)

Looks like we’re about to have six million people dancing the Sinulog in one event! 😀

Photo: At a Sinulog street dancing event in Manila, the girl reenacts Queen Amihan receiving the image of the Sto. Nino. (darylslimshady on Flickr)

No camping

I just found out that no camping will be allowed at Rizal Park the night before the Pope’s concluding Mass on January 18. The Park will be opened only at 6 am on the day itself (the Mass will be at 3:30 pm).


That’s fine with me, though. I just hope that people will not be too rowdy when gate-opening time comes.

Photo: Rizal Park on a cold morning. (darylslimshady on Flickr)