Pope Vatican

Even veteran Vatican reporters blown away by Filipino crowds

Natashya Gutierrez
Even veteran Vatican reporters blown away by Filipino crowds
Journalists who have covered pope in the last 20 years or so call the turnout at papal events in the Philippines 'incredible'

MANILA, Philippines – Even Vatican-assigned reporters who have covered the Pope for up to 20 years were blown away by what they witnessed in the Philippines.

In Manila, a record crowd of 6 million people waited for Pope Francis’ in the rain – with 4 million hearing the Mass at the Quirino Grandstand by the Manila Bay, and 2 million more flocking to surrounding streets to get a glimpse of the head of the Catholic Church.

Giovanna Agnese Chirri, a reporter for Italy’s ANSA news agency, has covered the Vatican since 1994. Chirri, a well-respected journalist who broke the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, said she did not expect the “big numbers” that showed up.

“It was interesting for me because I’ve followed the Pope for about 20 years. But I wasn’t in Manila 20 years ago,” she told Rappler. “The people are very warm. He’s Latin American, so he is accustomed to the warmth of the people.”

Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere of Agence France-Presse echoed the sentiments of his peer, calling the crowds “incredible.”

“I think it’s great hope for the world church, there’s a lively church in the Philippines. It’s a very good sign.”

Throngs of Filipinos, despite extreme rain or sun, waited hours on the streets to see or greet Pope Francis. From Manila to Leyte, thousands of people monitored his every move, greeting him with frenetic cries of “We love you, Pope Francis!”

Malacañang also declared January 15-19 as holidays in the national capital region to honor the Pope’s visit.

Latin American connection

De la Vassiere said he felt the Pope was able to really connect with the people of the Philippines by choosing his message carefully.

“I think a direct [link] was established between him and the Filipino people…because of his gestures and because of the words. [He mentioned] inequalities, climate change, I think people are sensitive to that,” he said.

“Also he spoke about the family, which is very important in the Philippines. He spoke in very strong terms defending the family. He got the enthusiasm of the Filipino, I think.”

De la Vassiere also agreed with Chirri’s analysis of the Pope’s being Latin American as having played a role in the trip’s success.

“He’s from Argentina, he’s Latin American, there’s a culture coming from Spain here, so I think if Benedict was a very good Pope and would have come here, I think he won’t have the same success because he’s intellectual. But this pope spoke with the heart. He found the words, simple words that were very subtle,” he said.

Asked if anything surprised him about the Pope’s visit aside from the crowd, De la Vassiere admitted he was caught off-guard by Pope Francis’ affectionate nature.

“He surprised me when he spoke to this little girl on the street. It was a bit of a surprise. He was like a father, like a tender father,” he said.

De la Vassiere was referring to Glyzelle Palomar, 12, a street child tasked to speak and address the Pope, but broke down at the youth event at the University of Santo Tomas. She asked, “Why does God allow this to happen?” referring to child prostitution, and then cried and stopped speaking. The Pope, gave her a tight hug immediately after.

To De la Vassiere, the Pope’s message from the Philippine trip was clear: “The church has to also correct the social inequalities. That was the message.”

This was the Pope’s first-ever trip to the Philippines. He is only the 3rd pope to visit Asia’s largest Catholic country, where 80% of its 100 million population consider themselves Catholic. – Rappler.com

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