Monday, January 19, 2015

Children of God, A Faith Renewed...And the Pope That Got Away

A child is lifted on the far side of the boulevard to welcome the final motorcade of Pope Francis, a sight that was constantly repeated in those few seconds as the Popemobile sped by. It was the last day of the papal visit, and my last chance to get up close for that once in a lifetime photograph...

The last five days with Pope Francis reignited a passion that has somewhat waned the past few years, but seeing him with the country's faithful, his deep compassion for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, and his sincere love for the Children of God reminded me once again of faith and trust. Add the "rock star" appeal of Pope Francis, and get ready to feel the "Pope Francis Effect"...

The Philippines is blessed to have been visited four times by three popes, with the last papal visit twenty years ago by the late and now saint Pope John Paul II. And the route always included the famed Roxas Boulevard, a wide and long stretch along the picturesque Manila Bay. Grey clouds hovered before dawn, and I was expecting the day to be just like yesterday with the incessant rains. And the day before. But not this day...

Security stretched the entire route of the Pope's motorcade, and Manila's Finest came in full force. In perfect formation, a solid line of blue cleared the path for Pope Francis, with a promise to bend just a bit when the papal motorcade passes to the delight of the crowds.

As we slowly picked our spot, a little reminder. There is an infectious lightness in the air, of hope and optimism in a collective renewal by a nation longing for relevant change and unity. Pope Francis touched on the preservation of the family, the alleviation of poverty, addressing corruption, and the children, as crucial elements in the formation of a united society, and a united church.

As crowds converged along the route, one can't help but be amazed and awed by the massive formations on both sides of the boulevard. And the children were there too. Pope Francis' emphasis on protecting the child lies at the very cornerstone of the family, and a better society. The image of Pope Francis consoling an abandoned child holding back her tears at the Youth Encounter two days earlier still remains yet another image of Pope Francis that will  forever be etched in my mind long after he leaves for Rome. And it just seemed right to see children, these children of God, held up high in the protective arms of their parents... another is raised in anticipation of the papal motorcade, a practice jump before the arrival of Pope Francis...

...and yet another patiently awaiting the arrival of the Pope, gently resting on her dad's shoulders... another dreamily gazes at the now blue and bright skies, in stark contrast with the the torrential rains during the past two days of the Pope's visit. Seeing Pope Francis in Tacloban, the epicenter of the country's worst typhoon calamity, was inspiring. With the threat of another impending storm, nothing was going to stop Pope Francis from visiting the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. And the rains didn't stop Pope Francis from celebrating mass at Luneta the day before, said to be the largest outdoor mass yet. Not Pope Francis. Not my Pope. And Pope Francis was determined to culminate his last day with a ride on the open Popemobile, rain or no rain.

But the sun shone brightly that day, illuminating one of the officers holding up a statue of the Santo Nino, the Infant Jesus, belonging to one of the elderly ladies along the security cordon for Pope Francis to bless. In that brief moment, a tender display of unity casts a warm and hopeful glow, like a spark spreading its contagious fire long missing... another rises above the flank of officers on the other side.

Each section of the route included roving details aside from the perimeter formation, which was reassuring. Despite the heavy presence of security, there was a light and festive vibe. And that's probably the way Pope Francis wanted it to be.

Throughout the security cordon lining the route along Roxas Boulevard, Manila's Finest was bolstered by contingents from the country's different regions, all coming together for the five day papal visit.

A child-like smile presents a whole new dimension to the officer in charge of our section as he engages with the crowd with friendly banter, an affirmation that we are all children of God.

And the smarter ones came prepared, bringing their own support structures for a better view high above the security cordon across the boulevard. And that day, people from all classes came together with one faith.

The cheers and applause of the crowd announced the arrival of Pope Francis on his white jeepney-inspired Popemobile, and the sudden rush of energy is felt almost immediately with the collective anticipation of the people lining the route. In a flash, cameras, smart phones and tablets go up almost simultaneously. I peer though my viewfinder, and I get a glimpse of the "rock star" looking my way for a split-second...but I freeze. And right that very instant, a phalanx of waving arms and bobbing heads dominate my viewfinder, and just like that, the popemobile leaves my frame in seconds as it picks up the pace on its way to the airport for the flight back to the Vatican.

Did I get that once in lifetime shot? Sadly, no. In just a few seconds, my Pope disappeared from my viewfinder, the big one that got away. Yet somehow, I felt a certain lightness, a natural high that continues to reverberate long after the Popemobile whizzed by. I didn't get the shot, but I feel blessed just the same. Hearing his words the past five days, and catching his gaze for a split second, has left a lasting impression. And that's all I need to keep my renewed faith burning for a long, long time. That's the "Pope Francis Effect"...

"I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man, woman, and child in the life of the community."

Pope Francis at Malacanang, 1-16-15 

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