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A wet balikbayan’s papal journey

/ 09:33 AM February 02, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — Meeting up in Manila with my siblings from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Davao for a chance to attend the Sunday Papal mass in Luneta Park was a happy coincidence. My sister, Jessie, swung by Cebu from Los Angeles, and I, from San Francisco, came from an early jubilee celebration in Quezon City. My brother, George, and sister, Meg, had planned this journey way in advance. But unable to get any special pass to get near the Pope, we all resigned ourselves to joining the multitude and let fate take its course.

Friday, we checked in at an Ermita hotel to get a head start on the expected millions. Saturday afternoon, we even made a quick survey of Luneta and took shots of the papal route, which we shared with friends on FB. Heady that we got the route down pat, we felt confident we’d get through to Luneta. (Only to find out the day itself that, not so fast, there were hundreds of thousands ahead of us who had better plans.)

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Early Sunday morning at five o’clock, we began our trek to Maria Orosa Street, where the entrance to Luneta was supposed to start. At TM Kalaw Street, the street perpendicular to Orosa, we were dismayed to be welcomed by a wall of pilgrims. We wiggled ourselves into the throng only to realize after two hours, we barely moved over a foot.

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Video & Photos by Esther Misa Chavez

With reality before us, we made a tentative decision to walk back to the hotel and resign ourselves to follow the proceedings on TV. Fortunately, our do or die spirit overcame us and we detoured toward Roxas Boulevard. There on the center island we gleefully found the raised, somewhat barren planter boxes.

What a find. The police barred any group from crossing the boulevard and occupying the promenade along the seawall but allowed occupiers along the center island and beyond. That also meant when the Pope mobile passed in front of us, Lolo Kiko would only be looking at one side of Roxas Blvd., our side. Clear across us, beyond the concrete barrier and police line, was Manila Bay. Only the coast guard boats were close to the breakwaters from the sea.

Behind us, on the open East side of the boulevard, a stream of humanity continued to flow towards Luneta, or near it, I supposed. For soon after, the back up was nearing our choice promontory. By mid-morning the gray clouds across Manila Bay had become ominous, and it came nearer and soon opened up, first a drizzle then a steady rainfall. We prayed for the rain to stop, but it seemed to test our fortitude. No one surrendered precious space. In fact more people inched in.

In front of us, down at street level, unprepared parents scrounged around for any material to cover the heads of their young. Newspaper, handkerchiefs, trash bags, candy bags, anything but anything were snatched up. While those who sheepishly brought the banned umbrellas unselfishly shared it. No one jostled. No one showed impatience. Only good humor. We were saved from getting drenched, thanks to the raincoat my sister, Jessie, brought all the way from Cebu. Another sister, Meg, supplied the see-through plastic bags that kept our things mostly dry, but not my Iphone, which drowned in rainwater at the bottom of the bag.

For eight hours we balanced ourselves on the uneven earth of the planter box, sitting down on its ledge, or standing up once in a while to stretch our legs. We cautiously protected our tiny real estate, which was now getting cramped by the overflow of people from Luneta. Eagerly, patiently, but excitedly, we waited for the Vicar of Christ, to let him know we warmly welcome him in Manila, rain or shine.

By three o’clock in the afternoon, everyone was getting excited as the expected time of the Pope’s arrival came nearer. We had three welcoming dry runs though. Thanks to the advance convoy of black SUVs and the heightened expectations of everyone. Every police escorted convoy was all cheered along. Everyone had a good view of the speeding motorcade. Well mostly. Those carrying umbrellas quickly closed them without any further pleading from people behind them. Those from behind found ways to peep through tiny openings.

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Then finally, first with bated breath and then screeching, the Popemobile came into view. Earlier, I had practiced and previewed possible angles for a good video shot while holding a bunch of rosaries on one hand. They looked pretty good. Except that I did not foresee the human surge from behind me as Lolo Kiko passed. They jarred my hand and it took me half a second to get my bearings back. And oh, so very briefly, he passed. His look was pensive and seemed overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of love and attention from the soaking wet millions along the route. Up on the open Popemobile he blessed us.

Only a few seconds we saw him in person after months of preparation. But were we sorry? No. We would do it again in a heartbeat.

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TAGS: Luneta, papal visit to Manila, Pope Francis, popemobile
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