For Catholics in the Philippines who had watched the Papal Mass on television last Sunday afternoon, January 18, the feeling of happiness and inspiration maybe extraordinarily terrific but it was incredibly different for people who took part in the actual event.
This is my story how it felt being part of the record-breaking “Papal Audience” in the History of Papacy and one of the Largest Historic Peace Gatherings ever recorded in world history.
I attended the event with my sister and 6 kababayans from Surigao del sur. And just like the rest of the 6 million people who braved the rain, cold and other discomforts, we did so many sacrifices, but every bit of it was worth it.
Did you know that in the History of Papacy and before January 2015, there’s only one Pope who drew a large number of attendees in one single event? Pope John Paul II in 1995, when he concluded the 10th World Youth Day celebration with a Papal Mass in Manila, Philippines, it had a record of 5 million attendees, none of the previous Popes had drawn such a large crowd in one single gathering.
The 1995 Papal Mass in the Philippines appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest papal crowd in one single event in the History of Papacy. Since then, no event in the Papacy ever matched that historic gathering until January 18, 2015 when Pope Francis celebrated another Papal Mass. By an amazing twist of fate, it also happened in Manila, Philippines, on the same venue!
The Papal Mass 2015 held in Manila at the Quirino grandstand last Sunday, January 18, hit the record of being the biggest papal audience in the History of Papacy to date. Official figure given by authorities is 6 million, surpassing the 5 million-record set by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
Both these events are currently recorded in the listing of the “Largest Historic Peace Gatherings Ever Recorded in World History” (under the category: Over 5 million attendees).
Last Saturday, January 17, at 11:30PM, we went off to Rizal Park to start preparing for the long queue. The moment we arrived, we already saw hundreds of people camping. We did not bring meals for the next day because we planned to just buy food somewhere in the park area. We only brought bottled water.
However, when we arrived, we saw people started lining up the street, without thinking of food, we immediately took part in the long line that led to the inner court of Luneta. We ended up near the monument of Lapu-Lapu because the area beyond this point was still closed to the public.
SLEEPLESS NIGHT AND THE FLOW OF THE CROWD
It was half-past midnight and we saw people took their places in the ground to sleep. We bought something to sleep on (a foil sheet) and joined others on the ground. It was my first time to lie on the ground to take rest with nothing to see above but sky. But I could not remember if I was able to drowse to sleep, maybe just nap, it was so noisy and the man who slept near us was snoring so hard. Thirty minutes later I got up and just seated and told my other companion to take my place where I lay for her to sleep.
At 2:00 in the morning, people got up to start moving, we’d no idea who instructed it, we just followed others and moved closer to the area where people stood anyway. But the move did not start until 2.5 hours later. Sleepy and tired, we endured standing for two hours and thirty minutes before we were told to proceed.
All of us came from different walks of life, from infants, toddlers, children, young-adult, middle-aged folks, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and senior citizens. At 4:30, we felt like waves while moving forward, gushing like water with the sea of people eager to reach the Quirino grandstand. I could not estimate how many we were because it was totally dark at Luneta, but I felt like meat stuck up in a small fridge with other meats hehe! But everyone was enthusiastic, others were tucking place mats, huge bags containing food, water, snacks, toiletries, and yes even thermos, others came with their families, bringing kids even infants and with their statues with the infant Jesus (Sto. Nino).
Because it was still dark, we could not see the road we walked in. Good that people ahead of the line gave precautions whenever obstacles were on the ground, for example, sharp objects, rocks, large roots, plants, slopes, etcetera. While walking, I could not see anything where we’re heading; I just followed the flow of people. I could not even breathe comfortably unless I would hold my head above.
By 5:00AM, we passed the area where electronic scanners were installed, we’re supposed to pass at these scanners, unfortunately, due to the uncontrollable flow of people and the wave-scenario motion, some of us, including me, did not pass to any scanners, the movement shoved us forward and pushed us to different directions away from the scanners.
Past five and before 6:00 in the morning, we reached the fountain area of Luneta where the first big screen was installed. It’s a bit far from the Quirino grandstand. So we decided to move forward, joined the crowd again, running and heaving, to reach the Rizal monument area.
All designated quadrants (where people must be in) were still closed so we climbed the iron barricades to jump to the other side. When it was my turn to jump off I could not move my feet, maybe because of exhaustion, but no matter how I tried to lift my thigh to the other side of the fence, I could not find my balance, so my companions pushed me up and I jumped off. Oh! The adrenalin rush! Like those moments when there’s a fire and suddenly you’re able to lift the refrigerator alone.
I WAS SEPARATED FROM MY COMPANIONS!
We reached the Rizal monument area, fronting Quirino grandstand, but could no longer proceed to the other side because people already filled the area. By this time, the flow of the crowd was so intense that moving even to your other side seems a big struggle, everybody’s goal was to reach the Quirino grandstand.
I took this shot while searching my companions
hoping I could catch one of them on camera
The sea of people gathered for the Papal Mass
When we attempted to go with the flow, people bumped in and the three of us were separated from the rest of our friends! Argggh. One of the staunchest reminders we told between each other before we left the house and during the early dawn--- we should hold one another, we should never attempt to separate because we might be drifted apart and looking for one another in a huge crowd is like an impossible mission to accomplish. While taking on the line at early dawn, we really held each other’s hand, gripping it so hardly.
But the moment we reached the Rizal monument, our most dreaded fear happened! Three of us were drifted away from the group when the large crowd bounced in and no matter how we tried to search our 5 companions we could no longer find them, it was as if they vanished instantly, it was just a blink of an eye, about 2 seconds! We could not rely on our cellphones because the signal was on and off due to the government’s directive to cut off the signal whenever the Pope is in the area or to lessen its strength several hours before the arrival of the Pope.
One of my companions decided to leave the Rizal monument quadrant to find a comfort room, we moved back but I was hesitant because I wanted to continue looking for our 5 companions within the area. While walking (which was so difficult due to the massive flow of people) I kept looking at my back, hoping against hope I could see one of them.
Then while walking and preoccupied with my thoughts how to search the others, I was suddenly separated again from my two companions! They seemed moving fast and because people kept flowing in and walking back and forth, the distance that separated me from my two companions became wider until they melted in the crowd. Oh God! I could no longer find them. Useless to move forward, I stood where I stopped, unmovable, not knowing what to do, my mind was empty, I kept stretching my stares hoping to find one of my companions, but to no avail. Where would I go? What would I do? That moment, honestly, I was ready to cry, I was so helpless.
Only one solution sprung from my mind. In times of trouble and uncertainties, prayers always make a difference. I already proved it many times in my life, I often witnessed a miracle befell in me after calling God’s help every time I am in a very difficult, dangerous situation.
I started praying, asking God’s help, seeking assistance from Jesus, Mother Mary and St. John Paul II, to let me find my companions or let them find me. Though this possibility sounded so bleak, I trusted their heavenly powers, to guide me, to grant me the miracle I needed for that moment, once again, just like in the past. I prayed intensely while standing, and started reciting the Memorare (Remember oh most gracious Virgin Mary, that, never was it known….) and prayed to Jesus and St. John Paul II.
After praying, I pulled my cellular phone and checked on the signal, it was very low, nevertheless I attempted to call my sister. It rung a bit, then went off. I tried again, it rung, finally, my sister answered. I asked her their exact location, I told her I was at the back of the Rizal monument but before she could answer, my phone went off! And there’s no way I could contact them again.
I really wanted to cry, but I withheld it, I continued praying. Then an inside force seemed told me to move back to the area where we separated by the crowd, I headed to that direction, but I could not proceed further because of the people sleeping all over the place. Then I saw a gleam of light, people were sleeping and sitting on the ground, a perfect scenario because I could roam my eyes to search my friends among the crowd and if ever they looked for me, I could be easily spotted because I was just standing.
During this ordeal, I never ceased praying, asking some divine interventions to let my companions find me or let me find them. And the miracle happened, yes, an answered prayer. I did not leave the area between the monument of Rizal and the large flag pool because I have a strong feeling they’re just within this area. It was here that we were separated by the people who bumped us. I thought.
While roaming my stare to all directions, I heard someone calling my name. I looked to the direction where I heard the voice and saw my sister! Oh my God!! I did not know how to thank the Lord and the Blessed Mother and St. John Paul II for this answered prayer, but it was as if I saw an instant miracle, as if they specifically pointed this spot to me. I uttered a simple thank you prayer, uttering the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like crying even more because once again, I became a witness how powerful prayer is! Though I proved it many times in my life, I am still in great awe how real the Lord’s guidance.
My intuition was right, they were just within the area between the Rizal monument and the large flag pool, I joined them and told a funny story how we separated and what happened in-between. It’s so amazing how prayers can be relied when everything sounds so hopeless. Trust me, the old adage that goes: Prayers can move mountains, is infinitely true, I’ve proven it a hundred times in my life.
Just like me, lots of people were separated also from their groups/companions, but unlike me who just relied on prayers, they sought the assistance of the police within the area, so the police gave their names to the priest on the stage and announced their names for everyone in the park to hear, including the instruction where they should be fetched by their companions.
At 6:00 in the morning, the atmosphere started to turn pretty cold and windy, and raindrops started pouring in. We stayed on the ground and took nap then at 7:30 hunger pangs crept in. We walked around to look for food stalls, but we could not find one, we’re unable to pass to the other side of the road also because of so many barriers installed, it was very impossible to reach the designated exit area (Kalaw avenue) because of the sea of people that already flooded the whole Luneta park, even getting out to pee was a real battle.
We tolerated the hunger and just drank water. At 11:00 in the morning, rain poured in and I just protected myself with a sweater and the foil piece we used to sleep on, but others came with their poncho, however, they still looked visibly quivering due to the cold atmosphere.
Despite the exhaustion that all of us felt, energy was high and enthusiasm to see Pope Francis was even more intense. Rain pelted, but it did not stop us from leaving the bare area, we stayed at the Rizal monument and just let ourselves be drenched in rain.
We were heavily drenched in rain!
Mariet and my sister using just the foil sheets
we used to sleep on as protection from rain
I was not able to get the name of the man (whether he is a priest I am not certain) who facilitated the event prior to the arrival of Pope Francis. He drew criticism from the social media recently due to the way he handled the activities, like the chanting, the yelling, but personally, I don’t find anything wrong with it. He was just trying to lift up the spirit of the audience due to the energy-sagging weather. I even thanked his effort to make everything lively and vigorous.
In the early morning, we recited the rosary, prayed an Angelus at noon and another rosary at 1:00PM. There were video clips showed on screen of the Pope’s visits and activities. The host also gave reminders to everyone, to care personal belongings, to keep an eye with the group to avoid being separated and other stuff.
Rehearsing Sinulog chants and dance as our way
of greeting Pope Francis, this time I allowed myself to be
totally soaked in the rain in order to participate
totally soaked in the rain in order to participate
After saying the rosary, we were given instructions what to chant the moment the Holy Father arrives. There was a couple from Cebu who had been participating the Sinulog Festival in Cebu for several years, with them was the dance troupe from the Archdiocese of Cebu who had been performing Sinulog dance during the festival. They taught us how to do the Sinulog dance. The host told us, we would practice the Sinulog moves and chants to perform as ways of greeting Pope Francis.
Ahead of time, it was already announced that attendees of the Papal Mass must bring candle and a statue of Sto.Nino, I have no statue of the infant Jesus so I only brought a candle. We practiced those moves and chants of Sinulog while others were told to raise their statues. It invigorated our energy more, we danced, we sung, we bellowed, under the pouring rain, I could see everyone’s excitement despite the awful weather.
I was heavily drenched in rain because I discarded the foil sheet I used to cover in my head to participate in the rehearsal moves of the Sinulog. I have less tolerance on frosty weather, so it was a great challenge for me, my jaw would lock up every time I am exposed to a cold surrounding, but that day, I could never believe I was able to endure it. However, towards 2:00 in the afternoon, an hour before the celebration of the Holy Mass, I began to tremble, but I was determined to finish the event.
We started rehearsing the liturgical songs of the mass. The hosts were very pleasant and lively. We also practiced the Sinulog chants and the line we will utter the moment Pope Francis will arrive: “Papa Francisco, mahal ng Pilipino” (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos).
After this rehearsal, we watched Pope Francis live on screen conducting mass at the University of Sto. Tomas.
THE POPE ARRIVES!
At 2:45PM, we saw on screen the departure of the pope mobile from the Apostolic Nunciature where Pope Francis stayed during the duration of his Apostolic visit in the country. The commotion in the park began, the crowd became ecstatic, yelling, roaring, heaving forward, finding a good spot to stand. Everyone prepared their camera.
Pope Francis arrived wearing a transparent yellow poncho
over his white cassock, his smile is so charming!
I did not pull my phone to take pictures because it was raining and I was afraid when the people bumped in, it would be toppled, or worst, be soaked in the rain. I decided to just concentrate seeing the Pope rather than gets busy taking pictures. I moved closer to the area where the Pope would pass but it was filled with the thick crowd and some of them brought chairs to stand.
The crowd brought the statue of the infant Jesus during the Papal Mass
The Pope's smile is very charming, you would really be drawn to
The pope mobile passed through many quadrants, we started our pre-rehearsed Sinulog chants: Pet Senior, Pet Senior, alternating with Papa Francisco, mahal ng Pilipino” (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos). Oh God! It was surreal!! More than words could ever describe, the feeling was extraordinary. Pope Francis was all smile and enthusiastic when he greeted the people on the street, he even stopped to kiss children even when raining, wearing a simple yellow poncho to protect him from rain, the beloved Supreme Head of the Catholic Church stood in, visibly moved with the presence of millions, while his jeep-mobile wheeled around to allow the crowd to see him closer.
Beautiful! As if my heart was bursting! Emotions flowed in and everyone seemed emotional upon seeing the Pope at the same time filled with inexplicable joy, despite rain showers and very cold weather. We giggled, we cheered, we shouted, we waved! A different degree of excitement was all over the place. Even those people, whom you would never thought had never attended Sunday mass in their lives, or not religious, joined this kind of enthusiasm, they were even more courageous, climbing the flag pool and whatever elevated area found in the park. I am telling you, energy that day was really contagious! A poignant encounter with the Holy Father indeed.
The mass started at 3:00PM. Surprisingly, the Pope conducted the mass in English, he also delivered his homily in full English. We stood in silence during the duration of the Holy Mass. I was trembling, the weather became severely cold and the rain did not stop. Since I did not bring anything to protect me from the rain, I relied on the foil I used to sleep on the other night in the park, but it was not enough. My wet shirt and jeans sent a hair-raising chilly feeling to my skin but I managed to finish the mass.
I was comforted with the fact that it was a Papal mass, and as a Roman Catholic, this event, so far, is very rare, only once-in-a-lifetime that this encounter will happen. To date, attending the Papal Mass is one of the highlights of my spiritual experience. It’s not all the time that I can participate in this kind of celebration conducted by the Vicar of Jesus Christ himself, thus, I told myself to carry on and be inspired. The mass ended at 4:30PM. But we still refused to go, I kept on looking back, hoping to catch another glimpse of Pope Francis.
AFTERMATH OF THE EXPERIENCE
The Holy Father’s influence is immensely great! His intention to maintain a poor church and to shun luxury is massively inspiring, it reminds me to be contented with what I have, to stop desiring things that I could never afford, to be compassionate, to undergo some sort of self-mortification, to live a simple life, to value others even animals that are abandoned. My devotion to my Catholic faith deepened even more.
Pope Francis is known with his unique compassion to the poor, the disabled, the disadvantaged, the abandoned. He is also known with his deep humility, simplicity, and effort to reform the Catholic Church marred by controversies (In his Christmas greetings he gave a blatant, fearless remark to the Roman Curia “You, power hungry”), which have been the stressing points of his tenure since he assumed the Papacy in 2013.
One of the most amazing gestures he did during his stay in the Philippines, is standing on his jeepney-mobile instead of sitting, it allowed him to wave and kiss children along the routes. It was reported that the Pope beforehand, rejected the bullet-proof pope mobile, which has been used traditionally by Popes when visiting other countries, because it is expensive, so the local organizers commissioned a jeepney-mobile in an open air. Its representation is very significant, jeepney is the most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines which catered those who cannot afford the luxurious public transportation facilities, the idea sounds perfect as it reflects Pope Francis’s simplicity and love of the poor.
READ HERE THE POPE’S MESSAGES
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