The Philippines lived the preparation for the Holy Father’s visit “with much anticipation, enthusiasm and hope.” The people welcomed this event wholeheartedly and it awakened in everyone collaboration, dedication, creativity and the commitment they have assumed as a common task: “to receive the Holy Father and his message, and to make his visit to our country something very significant for the Philippine people.” These were the words said by Maria Bema Solis, Daughter of Jesus, local Superior of the Juniorate to ZENIT. The religious missionary belongs to the Executive Council of the National Association of Religious Formators of the Philippines.
Solis said it was a very profound time of preparation, with much prayer in the whole country, “not only by Catholics but also by other faiths,” because the person of the Pope and his message of peace, simplicity, unity, mercy and compassion reaches all, Christians and non-Christians.”
The period of preparation for the Pontiff’s arrival in the Philippines was for many “moments of personal or group conversion. For the poor and those who suffer, they were experiences of the loving and compassionate presence of God, which deepens their faith and kindles their hope.
In regard to the logistics of the preparation, particularly in Manila and Tacloban (the place most affected by the typhoon Yolanda), she explained that “the task was gigantic.”
“However, both the effort and collaboration as well as the passion for the common good, made possible the realization of all the work.”
The parishes and Catholic communities had much creativity and initiative in the preparation, she continued. Catecheses were organized in the State schools on the Church and the Pope, which involved both the students as well as the teachers. In addition, youth activities and prayer groups were prepared to share the Word of God, as well as talks and round tables on the Pope’s messages, Apostolic Letters and Encyclicals.
Filipinos are very conscious of the reason for the Holy Father’s visit. “He has come for the poor, especially the victims of the typhoon Yolanda, to be closer to them and to bring us Jesus’ message,” explained Solis, adding that “it is moving to see how all the Philippine people received this message, including non-Catholics. The enthusiasm and affection of the people for the Pope is striking.”
On the other hand, the nun observed that “the impact of his person and the strength of his message is something that can remain in the heart of the Philippine people and it has a transforming quality. He is a person of God who has brought us much joy and tons of hope.”
A Spokesman for the Poor
For his part, Francisco Barbero, Carmelite of Charity in Manila, explained that during his visit, all eyes were on the Pope. “At home we have some 30 guests, as we are next door to Malacana, the President’s house, where he went, and to the Pontifical University where he will go on Sunday,” he said. Barbero also said that “everything is simple, because he wants it that way, but security was tight, bags had to be be transparent, mobile telephones were not allowed, etc. “
He also explained that it was necessary to be in places where the Pope was going many hours before, and even noted that “people walked up to 10 kilometers to see him; many people have come from the province.”
Finally, ZENIT spoke on the telephone with Julio Cuesta, an Orionist missionary who has lived in the Philippines for 10 years. Cuesta described the Philippine people as a profoundly religious, humble people plunged into poverty.
He works in the Payatas region, known for being the region where Manila’s garbage men live as well as one of the poorest areas. . The missionaries dedicate themselves to three services: food, health and education. Over these 10 years of mission, Cuesta explains that he has seen many things, that continues to surprise him. Many people, he explained, do not have money to cover their basic needs, and a sick child can die because the family cannot pay the doctor’s fees.
The Holy Father’s visit to the Philippines meant a lot to Christians, “To be able to see him, to touch him, to take a photo of him,” he explained, was very important for them. Moved by faith, they have been able to do the impossible to be present and to greet Francis. For Sunday’s Mass in Manila, which was attended by over 6 million people, the faithful traveled for hours to attend. “Almost 24 hours in advance, people were mobilizing and walked 8 to 10 kilometers to get there,” Cuesta explained.
“And what do they expect from this visit?” ZENIT asked the missionary from Burgos.
The Philippine people are very peaceful, resigned, poverty is general; they don’t even ask for money if they have problems, he answers. “They themselves realize that the one next door is in the same predicament or worse, and they don’t beg. They have asked for help for centuries and no one has listened to them.”
This visit, Cuesta explained, brought them hope and consolation, even if they are living in very difficult situations.
“There is someone who approaches them and is in tune with them.” He also pointed out that they very much appreciated the presence of Europeans and Americans and “now to see that an American is in their midst, who travels as they do, who is looking for ways to support them … this moves them.” For the Philippine people, the fact that the Pope is going there “means to stress their dignity.” So “they are going to feel that they are not alone, that there is someone who is helping them,” exactly as the Pope said in the homily at Tacloban.
These people need someone to cry out for them, concluded the Spanish missionary. ”The Church must become the spokesman of the poor who have no voice,” he said. “And this is what the Pope invites us to be and, as he himself said, this trip to the Philippines is for the poor.”