I shamefully admit that I had planned to skip town during Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines from January 15 to 19, 2015. My disgraceful decision to leave stemmed from the ability to see him on television, which I could do in Baguio.
With bags packed, my wife and I decided that the family could wake up late on Thursday. The latest extension on the North Luzon Expressway, or NLEX, meant we could reach Baguio in just a few hours’ time, allowing us to enjoy our sleep.
Waking up at our usual time, we had breakfast and checked traffic updates for the North. The not-so-good news was that traffic was already heavy very early in the morning. And as the day stretched on, the line on the expressway lengthened as well.
So instead of turning on the engine, we switched on the television just in time to see Pope Francis begin his round of activities. And after seeing him smiling at people lining up the side of the road, I was glad to stay home.
The Spirit is Willing; the Flesh is Weak
I was probably one of the few people who missed the early days of the first People Power Revolution back in the mid-1980s. By the time I joined in, the atmosphere had turned festive instead of fearful.
Seeing Pope Francis from the confines of my home made me want to head out into the streets, just like the millions I could see on television. After failing to attend one of the most important periods in Philippine history, I didn’t want to miss another one.
But then I was a younger man back then.
Years ago, I could handle walking around widely spread out destinations without breaking a sweat or complaining of aching feet. Years ago, I could bend my knees and squat for long periods of time without grimacing in pain. Years ago, I could handle the lack of bathrooms and absence clean water.
Unfortunately, those days have passed. So while my heart tugged heavily, my mind simply laid out the facts for the rest of my body – I’m old.
I’m not one to dwell on my advancing age because I don’t really like pity, whether it is from others or from myself. As far as I’m concerned, if I can walk up a flight of stairs, I will do it without any drama. And while I will stop more often today, I won’t make a show of huffing and puffing to try and gain the sympathy of those around me.
It’s simple really: I either do it or I don’t. And this time around with Pope Francis, I didn’t.
While I have been pragmatic about my body, the limits of my age have not dampened the frustration I feel. My decision not to see the Pope with my own eyes, when so many others have, has weighed heavily on me.
From the comparatively luxurious confines of my home, I see people much older and sicker than I brave the cold wind and freezing rain; waiting for hours just to get a glimpse of the People’s Pope. In the end, their sacrifice was amply rewarded. Some had the good fortune of having come face-to-face with Pope Francis, while others, caught glimpses of his passing motorcade.
Different Circumstance, Same Effect
The good news is that my vigil in front of the television was not in vain. Even if I didn’t share in the sacrifice of millions of Filipinos, the effect of Pope Francis has on me was the same.
Like many of my countrymen, including our esteemed journalists, I wept. These were not tears borne of relief or happiness, they were the uncontrollable sobbing brought about by deep pain bubbling to the surface.
Many things would trigger a reaction, prompting me to stealthily walk to the bathroom where I would weep uncontrollably. The sight of Pope Francis hugging and kissing the children, especially the sick and poor ones, kept me slipping out of our living room. Then there were his speeches and homilies, all of which touched something even deeper in me.
It felt like this humble man could touch my pain, even from the television.
Shockingly, after one form of pain healed a new one would reveal itself. And it was only after his leaving that I realized how much negative energy I buried deep inside me. Failures involving family, friends, hopes, dreams, and even my relationship with God; all had some form of pain that needed to be healed.
And with Pope Francis’ visit, it was as if the Holy Spirit had come down to relieve me of my burdens and assure me that God was with me.
Despicable as it may sound, I projected things would go back to normal for me the moment Pope Francis left the Philippines. That meant my going back to being blasé towards family, friends, the sick, the poor, the needy, and most of all, God.
But as I find myself in moments of silence, I remember the face, words, and actions of Pope Francis during his five-day stay and I become overwhelmed with emotion once more.
So while I would like to claim that today is the day I make a permanent change in myself, it would be incorrect to do so. That day took place on January 15, 2015 – the day Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines. I just didn’t know it then.
I have spent my entire life thinking only about myself. And while I would like to claim that I also did it for my circle of family and friends, it really was all about me.
Not anymore. From this moment forward, I will try to help those outside of my own little circle.
Financially, one of the writers in this website came out with an article entitled “Proud to be Filipino.” In it, he listed a few organizations that have been at the forefront of helping others and is a good start for monetary donations. That would be a good start for me.
However, positive change doesn’t necessarily require money. As I have learned during this historic five-day visit of Pope Francis, acts of patience, respect, kindness, and generosity have had a huge impact.
For the remaining part of my life, I will make an effort to make it all about others and not me anymore. This time, I will not seek recognition or reward for my efforts, as I have shamelessly done in the past. My only hope is that others who I have touched will pay it forward by helping others as well.