The pope they didn't expect to see

My parents went to Rome a couple of years ago, so it was obvious that they'd go to the Vatican. It was early on a Sunday morning, and many people were already gathered at St. Peter's Square, having already gone through the security procedures and are now waiting for mass to start.

They knew they wouldn't get to see Pope Francis, who was named as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church just a few months prior. He usually holds masses on a Wednesday, they were told; it's most likely some other priest will be officiating mass on that day. Still, hearing mass at the Vatican itself is an experience, so they went there anyway.

It was crowded, but it wasn't the kind of crowded we are (sadly) used to in Manila. You could still move around and shake your legs a bit. That probably explains why they managed to walk closer to the edge of the barricades, until they were on the second row of their section. They were still far away, but considering that these are tall Europeans, and my dad had to take photographs, it was good enough for them.

But then they decided to leave.

"Hindi ko alam kung bakit kami umalis," my mom tells me today. She remains confuddled by it up to now, now that the television channels are on Pope Francis mode. All she knows is, somewhere along the way, while they waited for mass to begin, they decided to leave their good spot and go further back.

The mass then began, and the priest officiating the ceremony came out.

It was Pope Francis.

"Alam mo 'yung pakiramdam na parang napupuno ka na?" my mom tells me, gesturing with her arms, her hands slowly moving up her body, all the way to her head. "Tapos, mapapaiyak ka na lang."

"Si dad?" I ask.

"Parang ganun rin, pero nagpi-picture kasi siya."

The crowds were in utmost silence as the pope led mass. He spoke in Latin, but it didn't matter. And things just got more intense, to put it one way, when the pope left the Sistine Chapel and went around St. Peter's Square, greeting the faithful.

"Alam mo 'yun?" my mother says. "Meron siyang presence. Hindi ko ma-explain."

"Paano kaya kung ako 'yung nandoon, no?"

We aren't exactly devout Catholics, but in the scheme of things, my parents are much more active than I am. They were the ones who went to Couples for Christ, after all. They went to prayer meetings, and we, their children, were dragged along because nobody would watch over us. I remember the songs and I remember the prayers - this is where I attribute why I'm not awkward when I'm tasked with doing the opening prayer in events - but I remember going to the bedrooms of the couples hosting the meeting and sleeping there, because it's almost midnight and there's nothing left for us to do.

Anyway, we aren't exactly devout Catholics. They left the group after a few years, and we didn't go to mass a lot. I don't know. Life took us, I guess. But there they were, at the Vatican, and they were quite moved by the presence of the pope they did not expect to see. Maybe I would be that moved, too. What about those who have devoted their lives to serving God? And what about the crowds that have gathered, and will gather, around Manila and Tacloban in the next few days? The moment Pope Francis' plane lands in Manila - a quarter to six - what will they feel? I can't even imagine.

We are a Catholic country; the church's teachings are a ubiquitous part of our lives, from birth to death. Call this what you want, but the pope visiting is a big deal, indeed. It may be spiritual, it may be historical, it may be for the mere fact that you're probably not at work today - but it is a big deal, and maybe that doesn't even capture the enormity of it. I mean, my parents can't.

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