MANILA, Philippines – Outside the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena, where Pope Francis will meet with Filipino families at 5 pm Friday, January 16, thousands of Catholics from across the Philippines await the pontiff’s arrival.
Donned in their ethnic dress, a community from Malaybalay, Bukidnon endure the crowd and the long wait just to see their blessed leader.
According to their parish’s leader, Nestor Sotelo, this is a small sacrifice for the opportunity of seeing the Pope in person. Pope Francis is their idol, he said, because of the compassion he has shown to others.
“We are very excited to see and touch him. We only see him in TV but now we’re going to interact with him. His smile is very personal. We feel blessed seeing him yesterday. Our hearts were overwhelmed,” Sotelo said.
Coming from Bukidnon, the community went through a lot to get to Manila. Some people had to loan money and some had to sell properties just to pay for the airfare.
“Initially, we thought we won’t be able to see him because the slots given to our diocese were limited; but they opened more slots. When will he be back here? This might be his last visit. So we took our chances even if the fares were expensive from Bukidnon,” Sotelo added. (READ: The Filipino family the Pope will meet)
Sotelo said it’s hard to preach the gospel of Christ in Bukidonon. Though the province is predominantly Catholic, many people still get insulted whenever Sotelo and his group try to spread God’s word.
“We’re really waiting for his message. He’s the people’s pope so we’re waiting for his message for the poor. We’ll be bringing back to our parish whatever message he’ll give. I hope he explains more about compassion so our faith will be strengthened,” he said.
Sotelo added: “We want to thank him. I hope he prays for the Philippines so our government will change. Corruption is really big even in the provinces. I hope he gives us hope that there is still hope.”
Family is priority
The Christian family has always been on top of Pope Francis’ priorities. In 2013, he convened an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the modern issues and challenges plaguing families worldwide. His meeting in the MOA Arena is one of the highlights of his visit. The Pontiff has personally asked for this face-to-face meeting with Filipino families.
Like the community from Bukidnon, Grace Rosas and her husband from Tagum City, Davao traveled all the way to Manila to see the pope.
Though she saw Saint Pope John Paul II when he visited Davao, the 59-year-old said Pope Francis’ vibe is different.
“Mercy and compassion set Pope Francis apart. Even if he has only been pontiff for a year, he’s the most humble I’ve seen. Though he knows the security situation in the country, he’s not using a bullet proof popemobile. He doesn’t think of his own security for the sake of the people,” she said.
Coming to Manila was a challenge for the old couple. They had difficulty finding their way around the city.
“I’m staying with my sister in Las Piñas. We had a difficult time going to her place. The cabs were asking for more money and we didn’t know how to commute. We’re too old for that,” she added.
But like the pilgrims from Bukidnon, Rosas said the challenges are small sacrifices for the pope.
“Even if we’re old and we get tired easy, we will endure everything to see the pope. Our prayers are granted to be able to go here in Manila and join the pope’s meeting with the family. What more can we ask for?” Rosas said.
She concluded: “Seeing the vicar of Christ is like seeing Christ in person. It’s going to be a life-changing experience.” – With reports from Sergio Gabriel/ Rappler.com
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