World Youth Day in Manila, 1995: I was in the grandstand and could see the Pope’s profile. All I remember was that there were millions of people on the grounds and I was with my whole family and family friends. We were listening to the Pope’s homily during the mass. It was a very surreal experience in that looking at his face and listening to his words gave me a sense of direction and calmness in my then-confusing life. He had a sense of holiness to him that really struck me and just that brief encounter changed my life for the better from that point on. I think his greatest legacy is really instilling spirituality in the youth. With World Youth Day, he managed to capture the youth globally in a way no other world figure ever did. He showed the youth how it is to be human but at the same time strive to be a better Catholic and Christian. This is powerful especially since the youth is the future of the Catholic Church and the world. ―
The earliest memory I have of Pope John Paul II was when he first visited Manila in 1982. My whole clan - my parents, lola, uncles, aunts, brothers and cousins -- all went to Roxas Boulevard to see him pass by. Because there were so many people, we had to climb on top of the walls and roof of a house. But since I was still young then, I didn’t really understand yet who he was. I figured, with all the commotion and fuss, that he must be somebody special.
The next and most significant time for me was World Youth Day 1995 in Manila. I was blessed to be at the airport and be part of the crowd that welcomed him when he arrived. Everyone was looking at the skies and excitedly anticipating any approaching aircraft. The moment his plane landed, everybody started crying. The feeling of seeing him in person is something that is so profound and unexplainable. It’s as if grace flows freely when he’s around.
I was also blessed to be part of the choir that sang for the celebration of the Quadricentennial Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Manila. Again, I can’t explain the joy and feeling of being in his presence. Even if it was very hot, uncomfortable and we sang Handel’s Hallelujah about a million times, the experience was worth more than all the effort and hardships.
The Pope’s presence is something you can’t have enough of. I never thought I’d be able to go to the World Youth Days in Paris and Toronto but because I so wanted to see him again, I was inspired and encouraged to do everything I could to make it happen. And it did happen! I saw him again in 1997 and 2002.
I believe Pope John Paul II is really the greatest gift to our time and generation. His example and the truth he has shown with his life increased my love and faith in the Catholic Church. I know that I will always take pride in and feel grateful that my life was graced by his presence.
When our choir director, Fr. Rino Tomas, told us to sing the Hallelujah Chorus “from the time you see him to the time he gets to the altar,” we at first just stared at him blankly. But we did as we were told and sang the Hallelujah non-stop, around ten times. In our, maybe, fifth or sixth repetition of the song, we weren’t sounding so glorious anymore. But the moment he came into full view of the choir, we felt re-charged and re-energized. We were, after all, singing for the Vicar of Christ. We were, after all, in the presence of the Successor of Peter.
That mass celebrating the 400
thanniversary of the Archdiocese of Manila, officiated by the late Holy Father in January 1995, was a Grace beyond belief. Never mind that the sun was hot, and we had to wear “nice, girly dresses,” and, now that I recall, we weren’t given any merienda. We were singing FOR THE POPE. That is probably the closest I’ll ever come (in this life, at least) to being in the heavenly Choir of Angels.
I didn’t anything could top that…. Still during World Youth Day week in Manila, as we were walking around the CCP complex, the Holy Father came out from the 25
thAnniversary celebration of Radio Veritas. And this time, we “had him” all to ourselves! We were just a small crowd and the Holy Father was only a few feet away from us! I don’t know why none of us had the courage to call him or go near him… maybe we were just too stunned by the unplanned encounter? I remember him smiling and waving at all of us and walking toward his Popemobile, when a young child called out to him. He backtracked (I recall the Secret Service wearing bemused expressions while shaking their heads), went to the child and blessed him, before going back into his Popemobile. Lucky child! “Do not be afraid,” indeed!
These memories of the Holy Father are very clear in my mind, most likely because these were “up-close-and-personal” encounters. I was blessed with the chance to be in WYD Paris (1997) but, there, I saw the Pope only on the widescreen. Yet, I didn’t feel too bad… After all, I had already been in the choir that sang for him in Manila. In Paris, it was time to share him with others.
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