IF the Catholic Church were a democracy, the election of a new pope to step into Pope Benedict XVI’s red pair of Prada shoes before Easter Sunday rolls in would have been a foregone conclusion. Since the number of Catholics in Europe has steadily declined over the decades, the next pope would likely come from Latin America, Africa or perhaps even Asia, where Catholicism continues to grow.
And if the Catholic Church, in keeping with the teachings of Vatican II, continues to embrace modernity in a nearly literal sense by allowing bona fide Catholics to weigh in through text and on-line voting in the selection of a new pope, the contest would have been over by now except for the counting.
With tech-savvy Filipinos for intercessors, Manila’s Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle should start getting used to cold weather, as he would most likely make the big move from balmy Philippines to temperate Italy soon.
Million and one concerns
He should start shopping on-line as well for extra pairs of red shoes since he would soon be swamped with a million and one concerns—from how to stem the rise of secularism and evangelical Christians the world over, to making calibrated moves to repair the seemingly irreparable damage caused by pedophile priests and their bishop-enablers in the Catholic Chruch.
Of course, I’m being facetious. Both shoes and the weather would be the least of the next pope’s problems, as he continues to position the Catholic Church by making it more relevant and responsive to the changing needs and ideals of its flock in the 21st century.
Having been even now a “Rome virgin,” the only instances I saw a pope in person was when Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines in 1981 and 1995. The first time was when Edward Cabral, a dear friend of mine from UST High School, and I attended a papal mass, if I remember right, at the Quezon Memorial Circle in February 1981.
Soon after the mass, I saw the ruddy-faced pope, who was barely a few meters away from me, smiling and waving to the faithful from an air-conditioned bus. Those were innocent years. Buoyed by faith and youthful enthusiasm, I suddenly felt warm and comfortable upon laying eyes on the pope, never mind if my feet were already killing me after having walked long distances all morning.
Children of Jerusalem
Like adoring children of Jerusalem, Edward and I again found ourselves hearing papal mass a day or two later, this time at the Luneta, where his Holiness was to beatify then Venerable Lorenzo Ruiz.
Alas, the crowd at the Quirino Grandstand was as thick as Joseph Ratzinger’s native Black Forest that we ended up barely catching a glimpse of Pope John Paul II. It was a time when so-called “jumbotrons” or giant video walls have yet to be invented.
For all our trouble, we saw the then first couple arriving in dramatic fashion and making their way towards the grandstand with an army of uniformed hawi boys clearing their path. A veiled Imelda Marcos, despite all her supposed sins against the Filipino people, was a vision in white.
The entire country was ecstatic. It was the second time in Philippine history that a pope visited Filipinos. And as the old cliché went, seeing the pope in the flesh was the closest thing there was to seeing and even touching the face of God.
Prior to Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit to Manila, Pope Paul VI, a pope who would probably forever be remembered as the successor to the well-loved and popular Pope John XXIII, made a pilgrimage in 1970 to this Catholic bastion in Asia.
Although I was already studying in a Catholic school then, I was too young to remember any details of Pope Paul VI’s visit. Besides, my parents had yet to enroll me that time at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, the only school the two popes visited when they made their separate journeys to the Philippines.
And how many of you can claim to have taken a direct hand in a pope’s visit? Well, my friend Anjoy Hipolito and I could say with a straight face that we did our part, albeit as a way to repay for a more temporal transgression against UST.
Barely a month before graduating from high school, Anjoy and I, and a few other delinquents, were told by the principal’s office that we wouldn’t be able to get our diplomas unless we make up for our numerous no-shows during those Saturday afternoon Citizens’ Army Training (CAT) sessions.
As part of our efforts to make up, we were made to string colorful banderitas (small flags), fiesta-style, one Saturday afternoon. Like a network of clotheslines, the dangling banderitas were designed to radiate from the grandstand to various points across the UST parade grounds.
Anjoy and I knew what the big fuss was all about. Pope John Paul II was set to say mass from a makeshift and colorful wooden stage on the grandstand a few days hence. The fact that we were being compelled to do something to help decorate the premises for his Holiness’ arrival made the effort seemed like child’s play. We were soon finished in half the time.
Although, I was conscientious enough to follow organizers’ “specs,” Anjoy was able to sneak in something sinister by forming a banderista or two shaped like—gasp!—the male sex organ complete with a pair of balls. I nearly rolled on the grassy field laughing.
Had the Dominican fathers known what we did, we would have probably been expelled and excommunicated right there and then. I wonder how many years in Purgatory await Anjoy and I for pulling off such a stunt.
When Pope John Paul II returned to the Philippines in 1995 to officiate in the World Youth Day celebrations in Manila, I was already working as a journalist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
I did not see him in action, as my beat had nothing to do with the pope’s visit. And since I was so occupied carving out a career for myself during those early days, I was unable to attend any of his papal masses.
Edward, my constant companion to almost anything and everything related to the Catholic Church, and I had already lost touch by then. Instead, I accidentally caught a glimpse of the pope while I was riding a public bus, as his “popemobile” whizzed by along Magallanes flyover on Edsa.
Although he was visibly much older and appeared more stooped by then, his warm smile, red cheeks and calming aura again managed to assure me, if only fleetingly, that everything was all right with the world. Once again, I was able to feel the presence of the Divine.