January 18, 2015 is a historic day for Filipino Catholics. The mass officiated by Pope Francis at Quirino Grandstand was attended by more than six million people (unofficially). Let me say that again, six million people (unofficially). It is a record-breaking number which surpassed the old record set by Filipinos during the 1995 World Youth Day closing mass (unofficially). Those who trooped to Quirino Grandstand, Rizal Park and neighboring areas stood in the middle of incessant rain for hours to see the pope in the flesh and listen to his homily.
John, my brother and I arrived in UN Avenue a little over 6am. It was cool but there was a hint of sun in the horizon. There was already a thick crowd waiting for the gates to open. Being in queue for hours produced some forced intimacy that was friendly albeit short-lived. We met an Ilonggo doctor, two teachers from Albay and a lone ranger who became our troop leader in making sure that nobody breaks our line.
As we made our way to Taft Avenue and on to Rizal Park, we met a group of women who became our new groupmates. We were able to make it to Rizal Monument without losing anybody. It was hard to keep track of our companions because there were just a lot of people and understandably we all wanted to get to Quirino Grandstand at the fastest time possible. There were a lot of pushing and shoving but there were also a lot of joking around, laughing and excitement.
After two hours and a couple of incorrect information (some people claimed that Quirino Grandstand was full so they turned back and waited in Rizal Park), we arrived at the famous carabao (water buffalo) statue. I do not know what its official name is, but the water buffalo statue was the most mentioned area that day. If you lose your family member, meet him at the carabao statue. There were hundreds of policemen in this area alone. My brother waited for us there before we proceeded to Quirino Grandstand.
The sight of the grandstand reenergized me. I thought that the destination was close; I could almost feel it. Of course I was wrong. It took us half an hour, to find a quadrant that would accept us. The whole area was partitioned into quadrants, an area that could hold a thousand or so people, to keep the people in check in terms of security and order. Quadrant 4 was close enough to the grandstand and to the portalets. We were able to find an empty space near a couple who arrived in the area at 5pm the day before! It was 930am when we settled down to rest.
While people slept or ate, I went to the portalet with my raincoat over my jacket and two shirts. It took me two hours to use one of the eight portalets near our place. In those two hours, I talked to some Indonesian nuns, Filipino nuns, people from all over the country who camped out the night before. I saw three people faint with the members of the Philippine Red Cross quickly responding to every distress call. Good job! 🙂 The wait for my turn to use the portalet was quite long but interesting. Too bad I did not have my phone (which served as my camera) to take photos of the nice people I met.
At 12, my neighbors in quadrant 4 were wet but nobody complained and left. A few minutes after I returned to Quadrant 4, the priests who acted as our hosts while we waited for Pope Francis to arrive made us learn Sinulog dance steps, some chants and songs. Despite the aching muscles and wet clothes, everybody stood up and gamely participated in the activities. It also helped that they were entertaining and the mini-program was interactive.
I am so proud of my neighbors because they were talented multi-taskers. Imagine thousands of people moving their feet to the left or right, moving their hands up and down while holding makeshift umbrellas, shouting “Pit Señor!” or “Papa Franciso, Mahal ng Filipino!” (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos!) with so much zest that could rival any profesional cheering squad.
The excitement reached close to its peak when we saw on the wide screens that Pope Francis had left the Apostolic Nunciature. Here is a video of our shouting and chant.
A few minutes later, everybody was screaming with joy as the popemobile moved closer to the grandstand. Everybody made their way near the barricades, phones and cameras raised, ready to snap images of the pontiff. I did not see the coming of the popemobile rather I felt it. People around me started to compress towards the direction of the popemobile. Then, the popemobile moved past the quadrants. We were all chanting his name, standing on tiptoes and craning our necks to get the best view of Pope Francis. Here is a video of my first glimpse of Pope Francis. He passed our quadrants four times. FOUR!
The popemobile passed our quadrant the second time when it made its way to the grandstand. More shouting, tiptoeing and craning of necks happened with the same excitement as the first sight of him. He waved and smiled tirelessly. He stopped to hug or kiss kids. He looked like a warm person who wanted to accommodate everybody who came to see him.
There were a few minutes of reflection before the mass officially started to give the millions of people the chance to settle down and focus on the Holy Eucharist. As a sign of respect to the mass, we were discouraged to take photos and vidoes while it was happening. It was a fantastic experience to have the pope say the homily and millions of people responding to him simultaneously. Surreal.
When I saw the skies turn dark earlier I immediately took photos of the eight-page missalette because they might get wet. And they did. I excluded the last page because it has advertisements on it. The missalette is mostly written in English but the Introductory Rites, First Reading, Profession of Faith, Lord’s Prayer, responses and songs are in Filipino and other languages.
There was candle lighting before the concluding rite. Then there was singing of “Tell the World of His Love”.
After the mass, Pope Francis went around the venue to bless the images of Sto. Niño. And he came back and passed quadrant 4. 🙂 The pilgrims left, smiling and contented with hope in our hearts that possibly Pope Francis will be back next year. Hopefully Pope Francis’ kindness and humility will rub off on us as we follow the example of Christ and go out to help the needy and learn from them.
¡Muchísimas gracias, Papa Francisco!