Do you know them? They walked with Saint John Paul
MANILA, Philippines – Twenty years ago, a group of Filipinos got their chance of a lifetime: to be the close-in security and medical emergency team of then Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul the Great.
John Paul II visited the Philippines for the second time in January 1995 to celebrate the World Youth Day. The January 15, 1995 mass celebrated by John Paul II brought around 5 million people to the Luneta Park – the largest papal gathering in the history of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.
Two decades is a long time but for the men and women who were in the thick of preparations for his visit, the memories of securing the Pope remain vivid.
For 5 days, a team of more than 150 Filipinos – his close-in security from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and two ambulance teams – tailed John Paul II, pushing aside the faithful who got a little bit too close, always on alert for any danger.
“It’s very memorable. I can tell people I’ve walked with a saint,” said Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa, who in 1995 was part of the PSG team assigned to secure John Paul II.
The story behind the photos
At the end of the 5-day visit, John Paul II’s security team from the Vatican gave their Filipino counterparts mementos – rosaries and medallions blessed by the pope himself.
The team, most of them Catholics, had one request: the chance to kiss the Pope’s hand and get his blessings.
Chief Superintendent Moro Lazo, then a member of the PSG team tasked to secure John Paul II’s official residence and areas of engagement, was also given the happy task of negotiating with the security leader from the Vatican.
The Philippine contingent wanted 150 people to join in but the Vatican security, wary of how long 150 people in line would take, pushed it down to 50.
But Lazo explained to the officer from the Swiss Guards: 50 is too few a number. The Swiss gave in: 75 would be allowed. Still, many of those in the security convoy would be unable to get the Pope’s blessing.
Lazo thought he would be met with disappointed faces, even outrage. But when he announced the “bad news,” the more junior members of the team immediately brought out rosaries and gave them to the more senior members with only one request: that the Pope touch the rosaries, so that they may be blessed too.
Police generals who were then part of the PSG described the moment as an “amazing experience.”
“It’s when you really see the goodwill and cooperation of Filipinos,” recalled Chief Superintendent Josephus Angan, who led the company tasked to be close-in guards of the Pope.
Exactly 20 years since Pope John Paul II last visited the Philippines, Lazo has one mission that he has yet to fully accomplish: make sure each of the 75 privileged individuals get a copy of their close encounter with the Pope.
Lazo gave us copies of these photos that have yet to reach the security personnel who managed to kiss the Pope's hand.
Do you know who these people are? Help us track them down and spread the word around so we could provide them a hard copy of these precious photos.
After all, it’s not every day a person gets the chance to meet and interact with a saint. – Rappler.com