Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2016


“Papa Kiko.” That was what the crowd on Roxas Boulevard across from the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Thursday had decided we would call out to Pope Francis when his motorcade passed us. It was not as if there was a formal meeting, or a show of hands, you understand. We were just marking time, waiting for our chance to see him in the flesh, as it were. The “Papa” was for respect. The “Kiko” was for personal endearment—a strictly-between-us name.

Who is “we”? Well, I was in a group that consisted of Chips and Akiko Guevara, their two young sons, their mom Amelita, her yaya, the children’s yaya, and the driver. Age range: from two years to 78 years. We had set out at 5 p.m. after a 6-hour period of indecision—Where will we go? Will we be able to see anything? Is it worth it?—which was finally resolved by leaving it all to God.

And God did not disappoint.

Decked out in our Pope Francis T-shirts, toting a plastic see-through bag that contained sandwiches and water, we set out, using Waze.

That Waze is fantastic. All you do is write the address and Waze shows you how to get there. We got from Makati to the Philippine Sports Commission (where Akiko works) in half an hour—very light traffic. We parked and walked the half-kilometer to Roxas Boulevard, thanking God all the way.

The people were about 10-deep in some places, and about four-deep in others, with newcomers arriving continuously. We looked for a way to get closer, and found it: In the bougainvillea bushes that line the boulevard, there is a hole you can get through if you kneel and worm your way. The children presented a problem, not to mention the knees of the elders, but again it was solved. Akiko patiently worked on the bush until it parted (I assure you, no harm was done to the bush), giving us access to the traffic lane that was closed off to accommodate the crowd.

Anticipation was, of course, the dominant feeling. But what struck me was also the feeling of peace, the feeling of unity, of fraternity, of good will. No one was trying to put one over the other, no one was trying to get a better view at the expense of another. We were all on our best behavior, as if we were all waiting for a beloved family member to join us. Everyone was willing to share—especially those who had radios or TVs in their cell phones, so we knew where Kiko and his motorcade were at any time. It gave me a very real sense of what he means to us. I am sure Kiko and his mercy and compassion were at work.

And the security! There were barricades on both sides, and on our side (the Vito Cruz side), policemen were manning the barricades from the outside, two feet apart from each other, and facing the crowd. From the inside of the barricades, I understand the parish priests of the areas had assigned parishioners to guard duty. Where I was, these parishioner-guards, with their IDs, were three-deep. They were also facing us, and therefore their backs were to the path which the Pope would take.

In other words, guarding the Pope was both a civil and a military responsibility, which everyone was taking very seriously. Is this not inconsistent with the feelings of love and peace I was talking about earlier? I don’t think so. It is because we love Papa Kiko so much that we will do everything to protect him while he is in our land. Paris was very much on everybody’s mind. We would never forgive ourselves if anything happened to Kiko on our watch.

Our cell phones had no service, but no one complained. We knew that this was done deliberately, so no terrorist remote-controlled bomb could be detonated. I told you, everyone was taking their responsibilities seriously.

Our crowd monitored his progress, courtesy of the right cell phones. There was a big screen for ads in front of us. How I wished that one of the large corporations had used that screen to show us the progress of the motorcade. But hey, we can’t have everything.

Finally, with all our cell phones on camera mode to record his arrival, the roar of the crowd announced his coming… coming…

going. He literally whizzed by, with the crowd screaming as the split second they had waited up to five hours for came and went. I screamed just as enthusiastically as the next person, jumping up and down, hoping that my cell phone had recorded the moment properly.

And the greeting—“Papa Kiko!”—was forgotten in the excitement.

Were we disappointed that he came and went so fast? Not on your life. We all saw him, in person, live, smiling and waving. That was enough. And the spirit of unity remained.

Yesterday (Friday) I watched on TV the ceremonies in Malacañang and in Manila Cathedral. And his message was clear: social justice, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, peace in Mindanao, just treatment of indigenous peoples, solidarity with people of all faiths. Cardinal Chito Tagle, too, was inspiring in the cathedral, and brought tears to the eyes with his faith in the Filipino and in the grace of God.

Everywhere Kiko went, the crowds were gripped with the same fervor I felt as he passed by. And I will go to Luneta tomorrow to hear him say Mass and maybe get a closer glimpse of him. The Sunday “sighting” will entail sleeping in a borrowed nearby apartment the night before, and going off to Luneta early morning, waiting there 7-8 hours for his appearance (prepared with appropriately padded “briefs”). Today’s “sighting” to see him off for his Leyte visit entails waking up at 3 a.m.

Is it worth it? You bet. He says his visit is pastoral in nature—to inspire us to be better Christians. Is it working? You bet.