Thursday, April 7, 2005

John Paul II, beloved pilgrim

It was springtime in January in the souls of millions when Pope John Paul II came to visit the Philippines for the second time 10 years ago in 1995. Like a homecoming pilgrim, he came. It is seedtime, he said in so many words, referring to the promise the youth held for the turn of the millenium, as he rallied them to plunge into ``the great adventure of living life well.’’

Think of that quote.

World Youth Day in 1995 in Manila will be etched in history books as days of wonder and joy ineffable. Four million gathered in one place to pray and commune with each other, to be blessed, to be one. Only Filipinos could throw a spiritual fiesta such as that one.

How wonderful. How wonderful for him to be in our tight embrace and us in his.

A thousand images of this blessed land he was taking home with him, he said before waving goodbye. The thousands of words he said to us we will remember and forever keep in our hearts.

I was one of those assigned to cover his visit, to catch his every word in places where he spoke. The reporters in the police beat had an even more daunting task, to wade into the throng, to watch out, just in case…

Those of us who kept watch at the Papal Visit press office at the PICC got copies of the pope’s speeches just a few minutes before he delivered them, never much earlier. Then we had to run off to catch him as there was no telling whether he would stick to the prepared text. I had kept a lot of the 1995 papal stuff in my files. Here are some choice quotes that could remind us to live a little better, love a little stronger as Filipinos.

``Too many young people do not realize that they themselves are the ones who are mainly responsible for giving a worthwhile meaning to their lives. The mystery of human freedom is at the heart of the great adventure of living life well.’’–World Youth Day prayer vigil at Rizal Park

``What does the Church look for in the Filipino youth? For help in saving your own generation from the futility, frustration and emptiness in which so many of your contemporaries find themselves.’’–Meeting with students at the UST parade grounds

``A situation where economic wealth and political power are concentrated in the hands of a few is, as you have written, `an affront to human dignity and solidarity.’ Too many families remain without land to till or a home to live in, and too many people are without employment and basic services. Your task must be to help create a new attitude, a conviction shaped by the principle of the social purpose of power and wealth, which can lead to appropriate changes in the prevailing order.’’–to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

``Today, more than ever, the followers of the various religious traditions need to know each other better in order to work together in defending those common human and spiritual values without which a society worthy of man cannot be built.’’–at the 25th anniversary of Radio Veritas Asia

``If you defend the inalienable dignity of every human being, you will be revealing to the world the true face of Jesus Christ, who is one with every man, every woman and every child, no matter how poor, no matter how weak or handicapped.’’–World Youth Day prayer vigil at Rizal Park

``Your firm stand against the pessimism and selfishness of the those who plot against the splendor of human sexuality and human life is an essential demand of your pastoral ministry and of your service to the Filipino people.’’–to the Filipino bishops

``I take with me a thousand images of the Filipino people. I know your desire for greater justice and a better life for yourself and your children. No one can underestimate the difficulties your face and the hard work that lies ahead.’’-Farewell speech at the airport

``Let me express this call in the words of song which I learned when I was still in my own country. The song goes: `Come with me to save the world; for already it’s the 20th century.’ Indeed the 20th century is now coming to an end. So Christ says: `Come with me into the Third Millennium, to save the world.’’–at the Mass for the International Youth Forum delegates at UST

``The religious traditions of very ancient cultures remain powerful forces in the East, and present you with particular challenges. The Church esteems these spiritual traditions as living expressions of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years searching for God.’’’–to the Asian Bishops.

Well, as they say, everyone has a story to tell. I have mine and it dates back to 1981 during the first visit of Pope John Paul II. I got to write about it only in 1995 (``The Pope launched my writing career’’) in the Inquirer.

The first, and I mean the first, feature story I ever wrote in my life in 1980 got me and the magazine editor (now the Inquirer’s editor in chief) in big trouble with the Marcos dictatorship.

Six months later, on Feb. 21, 1981, Pope John Paul II handed me a rock trophy for what I wrote.

I was not even a journalist at that time. I was with a church-related human rights organization. I was trained in behavioral science and for years my world was psychometrics and counseling until I became a religious novice and metamorphosed into a human rights worker. That was when the writing began. Somehow this JPII clinched it and so the writing continues to this day.

Well, what has it been like to have pen in hand? Lines from JPII’s own poem (``The Quarry’’) give a picture of it: ``Hands are the heart’s landscape. They split sometimes/like ravines into which an undefined force rolls.’’

Goodbye JPII. May angels sing you to thy rest.