I strongly believe one of the most beloved pope in the world is Pope John Paul II. He visited the Philippines twice. The first historic and memorable visit to the city of Legaspi was on February 21, 1981. He made a return trip to the country during the World Youth Day Celebration in January 12-16, 1995 in Manila.
On his only visit to the Bicol capital his chartered Alitalia plane touched down the Legaspi airport runway with throngs of people afar awed in anticipation for his arrival. On that appointed day, the city has a fine atmosphere, the weather was particularly warm, and the people were filled with enthusiasm as well as very hopeful. The prevailing ambiance was prayerful and solemn.
His entourage was met at the domestic airport and escorted to the Legaspi cathedral via a beautifully decorated armored “pope mobile.” It was adorned with white blossoms of flowers of rare varieties. The Pope was standing, smiling and blessing generously with untiring passion the crowd on the sidewalks who patiently waited for his arrival.
Editor’s note: VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before 1.5 million faithful in St. Peter’s Square and surrounding streets Sunday, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to possible sainthood.
From Wikipedia: The Venerable Pope John Paul II[ (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Pawel II), born Karol Józef Wojtyla /’kar?l ‘juz?f v?i’t?wa/ (18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005), reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of The Holy See from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at 84 years and 319 days of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted 26 years and 168 days; only Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) who served 31 years, has reigned longer. Pope John Paul II is the only Slavic or Polish pope to date, and was the first non-Italian Pope since Dutch Pope Adrian VI (1522–1523).
John Paul II has been acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. It is widely held that he was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. Conversely, he denounced the excesses of capitalism. John Paul II is widely said to have significantly improved the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion.
He was one of the most-travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. He spoke Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Russian, Croatian, Esperanto, Ancient Greek and Latin as well as his native Polish. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonised 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the last five centuries. On 19 December 2009, John Paul II was proclaimed venerable by his successor Pope Benedict XVI and beatified on 1 May 2011.
Wojtyla became the 264th Pope according to the chronological list of popes and the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846, who was 54. Like his immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul II dispensed with the traditional Papal coronation and instead received ecclesiastical investiture with the simplified Papal inauguration on 22 October 1978. During his inauguration, when the cardinals were to kneel before him to take their vows and kiss his ring, he stood up as the Polish prelate Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski knelt down, stopped him from kissing the ring, and hugged him.
For a mother like me, the solemn and sincere blessing he bestowed upon my two kids when he passed by our residence was a blessing from God. I could still vividly recall the sweet and serene countenance of the blessed Pope. My eldest son Cid was 4 years old then, and Carmel was two months old. I was cuddling her while Cid stood innocently by my side.
The Pope’s mobile was moving slowly so the crowd can imprint a good memory of his features. As he passed by us I stretched my arms bringing my daughter closer to him in the manner like an act of offering to catch his blessings. He gently turned his gaze at us and blessed my children and me. “Thank you Lord,” was my fervent, silent prayer.
After 14 years, on January 12-16, 1995, he came back to Manila for the World Youth Day Celebration. My daughter, Carmel was already in first year high school at that time at Saint Agnes Academy, a Catholic private school managed by the Orders of St. Benedict (OSB) sisters. She was so lucky and chosen to attend the joyful yet spiritual occasion of world Youth Day celebration in the nation’s capital. I obligingly gave her the permission. It was an unforgettable experience for her, for the second time she was blessed by the Pope.
The pope consistently attracted large crowds on his travels, some amongst the largest ever assembled in human history like the Manila World Youth Day, which gathered around 5 million people. Some have suggested that it may have been the largest Christian gathering ever.
Us folks left in the province, kept ourselves updated by watching the television as various channels aired the whole-week activities. My heart was deeply touched as the crowd of millions of Catholics shouted in unison, “We love you, John Paul II.”
Now I could look back to those times and enliven my memory through old photos taken from the museum of the Albay Cathedral during the Pope’s visit. As I scan the old pages of a self-made memorabilia- a book- bounded collection of newspaper clippings from the time of the World Youth Day preparation up to his second arrival on the Philippine soil, and up until he bade the Filipinos goodbye. I titled my collection “POPE JOHN PAUL II TOTUS TUUS: A TRAVELOGUE.”
Pope Paul VI was the first pope to have visited the Philippines on November 1970.
Dr. Elnora Brocales is connected with the Bicol University College of Arts and Letters, city of Legaspi.
Photographs by Bob Adupe.