I was a passive viewer of the recent visit of Pope Francis in the Philippines last week. My only involvement was watching the live coverage as it unfolded and sharing my thoughts with the household. I am not Catholic so watching this momentous event on TV was enough for me. You see… the Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia with a predominantly Catholic following hence a visit from the head of the Catholic church is not just news. It is THE news.
No doubt that the Filipino’s warm reception to Pope Francis is one for the books. It was a rare opportunity for Filipinos to have a Pope visit the country. The last time that a Pope visited the Philippines was in 1995 when we hosted the World Youth Day celebration. Hence, it was not a surprise that Filipinos braved the sun, rain, wind, and the crowd to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.
As I took the front seat of watching the events unfold on television, I was amazed at the charisma of Pope Francis. His genuine smile, humility, and firm stand on issues piqued my interest. He had the aura of a leader who was ready to influence his followers towards the ideals that he firmly believes in. He was not afraid to speak his mind and spoke from his heart.
I was amazed with how he requested to have a simple welcome be accorded to him upon his arrival in the country. I was also amazed with his request to have an open Pope mobile that proved to be a security nightmare for both the Church and the government.
As I was glued in front of the television, I felt the joy and the warm welcome of Filipinos who waited for hours, enduring the heat of the sun, to catch a glimpse of the highest leader of the Catholic church. Pope Francis was probably more amazed when he saw the multitude of people who lined the streets to greet him.
But his planned visit to Tacloban sealed the deal that he was a leader who was reaching out to the church’s followers. I must admit that he braved the rain and the wind of an incoming typhoon just to make his presence felt to the survivors of Yolanda. His visit comes with an apology for his delayed visit and an assurance that he was here. It moved me. Here was a leader who recognizes his weakness but gives his assurance of his presence. It is a shining example to our current leaders who put blame on others for their own weakness.
Humility is the best asset of Pope Francis. He was not a leader who felt that he needed to have the answers. He knew when the right words to be said and when the lack thereof was necessary. He was not afraid to show people where his human limitations were not enough to answer the question but was quick to show that he understands. It was these humble acts that made me respect him, not for the position that he holds, but for who he is as a person and as a leader.
It was this same respect for him that made me decide that I had to see him. I was impressed with his sincerity and humility that I just had to take the opportunity to see him. So I braved the rains and the wind, together with about 6 million Filipinos, on his last public appearance in Luneta. I did not attempt to head off to Luneta but opted for Roxas Boulevard as my objective was to see one of the most influential man in the world. I saw at ground level how Filipinos waited for hours in the cold just to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. I was lucky that I only waited for about two hours in the cold and I still managed to have caught a glimpse of the genuine smile from the humble Pope Francis.
My brief encounter with Pope Francis taught me three things – humility speak volumes and touches the heart of many, stand for what is right and be not afraid to make others know your stand, and make things better for the people around you by extending your hand when needed. These things we should all practice, both Catholic and non-Catholics alike.