#INQStory Reporter's Notebook: Pope John Paul II as mediator

Philippine Daily Inquirer Pope John Paul II Papal Visit INQStory Reporters NotebookEditor’s note: As the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines draws near, INQUIRER.net is republishing articles of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the previous papal visit—that by Pope John Paul II, in 1995. This is part of the history of the Philippines as told by the Inquirer. This is INQStory.

Reports from Juliet Labog, Katherine Espina, Catherine Canares, Ceres Doyo, Natasha Vizcarra, Juan Sarmiento, Chito de la Vega, and Doreen Jose

January 15, 1995

It takes a John Paul II, it seems, to effect a reconciliation of sorts between President Fidel Ramos and Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.

At the Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) rites, Sin, Mr. Ramos and First Lady Amelita Ramos found themselves together in the Pope’s presence.

The First Couple and Sin, at odds over the family planning issue, barely looked at each other when they arrived at the PICC Hall.

Sin was at his combative best when he spoke, citing the “failure of political will” on the part of government.

When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Ramos appeared intent to please the Catholic crowd and win points with the Pope, if not to truly reconcile himself and the First Lady with Sin. Judging by the jubilant applause and response to several points of his speech, the President had some success.

* * * Eight loud rounds of applause and cheers greeted Mr. Ramos when he announced the extension of Radio Veritas’ franchise “for an indefinite period,” called the Pope “our phenomenal guest,” cited Matthew 5:16 in exhorting media practitioners to do their duty, and proclaimed himself a “regular but unpaid RVA talent” for his generous official praise of the Catholic radio station.

But the media crowd, well aware of the bickerings between the First Couple and Sin, made taunting cheers when the President acknowledged that it was the “voice of Cardinal Sin” which helped in the 1986 Edsa revolt.

Sin might have blushed, but he avoided the crowd’s hooting by turning to the Pope to explain something.

Mr. Ramos went further, praising the RVA some more as the “most effective institutional missionary of Asia” and chanting, “Mabuhay ang Santo Papa, Mabuhay ang Pilipino.”

The Pope smiled, nodded and waved. The First Lady barely smiled.

* * * At the end of his speech, the President had to approach the Pope to present a copy. In the process, he shook Sin’s hands. The handshake was swift, but here Ms Ramos smiled.

The audience roared once more. Up to this point, the First Lady and the Cardinal had avoided eye contact.

At the end of his speech, the Pope rose and descended the stage toward the First Couple, who kissed his hands.

Sin could be seen lingering behind, but when the Pope had left the Ramoses, Sin made a deliberate move toward the First Lady and shook her hand, albeit hurriedly.

They also smiled at each other, but not pleasant enough to signal true reconciliation.

* * * “I’m waiting for other surprises,” the Pope told the audience at the closing of the 16th Catholic Mass Media Awards.

He made the remark after thanking organizers for the “artistic program” which included numbers by the Bayanihan Dance Troupe and three young Filipina sopranos.

But the Pope sprang his own surprise on the delighted audience when he started humming “Cucuetzska Cuka,” a Polish folk song.

The Bayanihan had sung it to him during an audience in Rome in 1983, and danced to it at the CMMA rites.

“We got so inspired that we decided to sing it at the finale,” said Melito Vale Cruz, the Bayanihan’s assistant dance director.

“We noticed the Pope was humming the tune as we ended our presentation.”

* * * “Pope fever,” as the INQUIRER described the hysteria over the Pontiff’s visit, seems to have affected some people more “wildly” than others.

At yesterday’s Mass at the PICC, a thirtyish woman in black made a scene as she insisted on receiving communion from the Pope.

She was led away kicking and scratching by unarmed security personnel and two women.

She was probably not aware that the 70 persons who received communion from the Pope were picked out and screened as early as last November.

* * * Society matrons at the VIP section of the PICC grounds were among the first to get delirious when the Pope arrived for the quadricentennial Mass.

Dropping everything, including their studied poise, the women shed their patent leather shoes and clambered atop plastic Monobloc stools for a better view.

Gushing like teenagers, they observed that the 74-year-old, pink-cheeked, Polish-born Pontiff was “cute.”

* * * Last Friday night, a middle-aged woman was affected by the reenactment of the “Way of the Cross” more than anyone else.

As students performed a scene depicting the death of Jesus Christ, she calmly walked to the stage and climbed up.

She had already taken off her shoes preparatory to joining the students when production people reached for her and carried her away.

“Ayoko na po!” she screamed. “Hindi ako masamang tao!” Three nuns rushed to her side to comfort her, and like a hurt child, she whimpered.

“Ayoko na!” she said. “Hindi ba Way of the Cross na tayo? Tara na, sumali na tayo.” The nuns embraced her, stroked her hair and rubbed her back.

They were able to calm her down after a while, but after a few minutes she tried to break away.

She was last seen lying on the grass and shouting her pain away.

* * * People seemed to be so awed by the Pope they would probably jump in the river without any thought if he ordered them to.

At one point in the Mass, the Pope recited the responsorial psalm whose first line read, “All you people clap your hands…” Apparently thinking it was a request, the people applauded.

He recited the line again and the crowd clapped even louder.

“You are doing that very well,” the Pope said.

* * * In his homily, the Pope mentioned that the Church is “a living body . . . at a certain point she reaches a stage of maturity which makes it possible for a particular Church to give life to other Churches like itself.”

He then translated the text to Latin, to the crowd’s ecstatic cheers.

Amused, the Pontiff quipped: “I can see the Filipino people are understanding Latin very well.”

* * * Anything the Pope touches or passes, he blesses — or so goes the belief of many Catholics.

In the last three days, anything he touched or passed was carted away as souvenir.

After yesterday’s Mass, scores of people scrambled to the altar and grabbed the white and yellow flowers festooning the area.

Those who failed to get any plucked the santan blooms that were also used to decorate the stage.

Fr. Bong Guerrero, parish priest of St. Joseph’s Church in Gagalangin, Tondo, who led the singing practice before the Mass, urged the crowd not to pull out the plants.

These, he said, will be used to adorn the Youth Formation Center that will soon be constructed at the same site.

“Makokomang ang kumuha ng tanim,” Guerrero warned.

* * * The Pope brings peace wherever he goes, but the thought seemed to have been lost on the people as they fought to see him.

Bickerings erupted at the papal venues, such as at the PICC when members of the Guisguis chapter of El Shaddai from Sariaya, Quezon, heckled newspersons atop the media towers to the right of the altar.

They apparently thought the newspersons would block their view of the Pope.

Demanding a better view, they kept reminding the journalists: “We are also children of God and the Pope also loves us.”

Their constant whining got on the nerves of the occupants of the nearby VIP section who told them to shut up.

* * * On the other hand, some people were simply born lucky. They were able to touch or get a close glimpse of the Pope without even trying.

“Inang Puste” Soriano, for instance, did not at all plan on going all the way to Manila to see the Pope.

“One of my friends saw me waiting for a jeep near MacArthur Highway in Bulacan and she invited me to go with her,” said the 74-year-old woman.

“So, here I am.” She said it must have been fate that brought her to Manila on short notice.

She saw the Pope up close after “some security men” let her sit in one of their vehicles.

“He was so fair and so kind-looking,” she said.

Inang Puste said she was coming back today to see him again, perhaps with her husband this time.

“Those guards told me I should look for them again so that they can let me stand in a place where I will surely see the Pope,” she said.

* * * At yesterday’s CMMA rites, usherette Lorraine Puyat handed five plaques to the Pope for awarding to the winners.

In the five times she knelt to give him a plaque, the Pope spoke to her and blessed her thrice.

The crowd cheered, not without a little envy, at “how lucky the young miss” was.

* * * While many Catholics would give an eye just to see the Pope in person, Health Secretary Juan Flavier passed up the chance to be near him and probably kiss his ring.

Flavier, who has been at odds with the Church hierarchy in the Philippines over the population issue, said: “My gift to the Pope is to sacrifice not seeing him and to ensure the health and safety of the people.”

The health secretary did not show up during the Pope’s call on the President in Malacanang last Friday.

Some saw this as Flavier’s way of “avoiding” a meeting with the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

But Flavier said he decided against going to Malacanang so he could attend to the deployment of emergency medical teams in all papal and World Youth Day venues.

He said he may still be able to kiss the Pope’s hand: “I’ll take my chance at the Luneta.”

* * * Still, Flavier was thrilled by his encounters with the Pope from afar.

“He spoke Latin, I stood up and shouted even if I did not understand what he said,” he said after yesterday’s Mass.

“It sounded good. That is the charisma and the holiness of this electrifying man.” Flavier marvelled at the Pope’s stamina and attributed this to “divine and sheer personal will.”

“Imagine, he is standing for 12 hours,” Flavier said. “That’s difficult for a man who has suffered a broken hip.”

* * * Security was predictably tight at the PICC where personnel were scrutinizing everything from pagers to perfume spray bottles.

But a television reporter thought the inspection was getting out of hand after a guard in search of hidden weapons squeezed flat the loaf of white bread he was supposed to have for breakfast.

* * * The first station which stood for “The Last Supper” at Friday night’s Via Crucis was a little intriguing.

Against a backdrop of Jesus and the 12 apostles, demons in black tights suddenly attacked a priest, a nun, a nurse, a Buddhist monk, a Muslim woman and a communist waving a red flag.

The demons were there to tempt the first three — that seemed easy to understand.

But were they to commune with the last three?

According to scene director Bombi Plata, the demons were obstacles to the three characters’ possible understanding of the Roman Catholic faith.

Plata said he hoped people would not misunderstand.

* * * At last night’s prayer vigil of WYD delegates in Rizal Park, the Pope joined the young people of the world in dancing.

He held hands with some delegates and swung his walking stick to the rhythm of the WYD theme song, “Tell the World of His Love,” and other songs, with nary a trace of exhaustion. Before him was a sea of candlelight.

The delegates delivered messages in their own languages, to which the Pope replied: “Jesus is the same for all of us. There should be no ethnic rivalries and no discriminations.”

* * * Statistics on the PICC Mass, easily one of the biggest in the country’s history, were mind-boggling.

Celebrated by the Pope, concelebrated by 4,000 Filipino and other Asian bishops including Archbishops Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu.

With 500 communion stations manned by 1,000 priests and 1,000 lay ministers.

Served by 11 servers, 10 masters of ceremonies, 10 offerers, two deacons, two lectors, one psalm reader, one commentator, a 500-member choir and a 60-piece orchestra.

Held at a 10-hectare lot and attended by up to a million people, according to police estimates.

* * * Malaya photographer Mon Acasio, who was run over by one of the Pope’s security vehicles Friday during the trip from the UST to the Nunciature, said he would forgive and forget the entire incident.

For this, he earned the President’s gratitude and an offer of assistance.

“I was informed that you are not pressing charges or blaming the driver for the accident since the mishap occurred when both you and the driver of the Presidential Security Group vehicle were carrying out your respective assignments,” Mr. Ramos told Acasio in a letter.

“I wish to thank you for your magnanimous gesture.”

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