Papal encounters through the years
With Pope Francis’ visit only a week away, excitement over his arrival is at its peak, with most everyone and his next-door neighbor wanting to get in on the act in some way.
It’s perfectly and “humanly” understandable, of course, but we should remind ourselves that some of the laudatory gambits now being launched are not what the beloved visiting pontiff wants to happen.
He’s already said that the visit should not be about him, but about Jesus Christ, of whom he is only the representative. So, he could in fact be actually offended by some of the misplaced razzle and dazzle surrounding his visit!
“It’s not about me,” he keeps repeating, but not many appear to be listening. Let’s heed the plea of this famously humble pope—before it’s too late.
Remember the time when Pope John Paul II visited us, and the Coconut Palace’s construction was rushed for him to “royally” stay there—and, he declined the extravagant accommodations? A lesson should have been learned.
On a more personal note, the first Roman Catholic pontiff whose existence I was significantly aware of was Pope Pius XII. He looked thin and rather severe, seldom breaking into a smile on newsreels or TV. Interestingly, in the ’80s, I was tapped to portray him in a historical theater piece.
Then came now St. John 23rd, the genial, grandfatherly pontiff whose warmer projection presaged the “stellar” arrival of now St. John Paul II. Like many of my theater colleagues, I felt a special bond with him because he was an actor, playwright and poet in his youth.
Before that, I covered the arrival of Pope Paul VI at the Naia for the Chronicle, and unexpectedly witnessed the assassination attempt on his life by a crazed Bolivian artist. He was dressed in a bishop’s robes—and suddenly lunged at the pontiff with a bladed weapon!
It’s a good thing that his thrust was intercepted, and he was rushed off in a jeep by security personnel. Since I was a newsman, I instinctively ran after the jeep, hoping to get a scoop—but it soon left me far, far behind (so much for the breaking-news scoop)!
John Paul II was pope for so many years that I was able to relate to him at radically different stages of his life, and attended several of his rites and papal audiences at the Vatican, including the beatification of Mother Teresa.
But, the most memorable “moment” for me took place when my cohost on “Two for the Road,” the late and still much-missed Elvira Manahan, asked me to go with her on a two-week tour of Italy, which took us to Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Positano, Assisi and other beautiful and storied places—including the Vatican.
Elvira knew the Philippine envoy to the Vatican at the time, so arrangements were efficiently made for us to see Pope John Paul II at close range—and an official photographer was even provided to record the moment for posterity (see photo).
Even more precious are the still crystal-clear recollections I have of that special day. The pope talked to many pilgrims, but when he got to Elvira and me, it was as if all those people had receded—and he looked only at us.
The usually glamorous and sophisticated Elvira became a little girl again, looking up at him sweetly and tenderly—and I too felt especially blessed as everything else faded away in a holy hush.
A few words were exchanged (frankly, I think I babbled), and then he moved on and away—but, the personal feeling the charismatically caring pope engendered stayed with me—for keeps.
After that encounter, I was so moved that I started my research for a play on his life, (the play, “Be Not Afraid,” will be staged again this May).
I thought it would be my last play about a pope, but when the Vatican announced months ago that Pope Francis would be visiting Tacloban and Manila, “something” moved me to research, write and direct another play on his life, and why he felt impelled to comfort the typhoon victims in Tacloban.
That play, produced by Rose Cabrera, will be performed at the Mabuhay Restop Theater Café at Rizal Park, and in Tacloban. The play, “With Love, Pope Francis,” includes significant details on his life, explaining what impelled him to go on his mission to our part of the world.
For the Tacloban side of the story of his visit, we flew there months ago with our producer to talk to survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”—the better to dramatize their shared need for love, help and closure.