Know their stories: Thomasian youth volunteers on papal visit
MANILA, Philippines – Madeleinne Laconico, a young Thomasian alumni, speaks of the Pope with a mix of excitement and fervor.
Her voice shrill, she struggles for words to describe what a blessing the Pontiff's visit to the Philippines is.
Laconico is one of around 50 civilians who will welcome Pope Francis during his arrival at Villamor Air Base, taking the slot of one of a military officer's dependents.
This, after weeks of accepting that a close encounter with the Pope is an impossibility.
Having signed up to become one of many volunteer communion ushers stationed in different tents at the Quirino Grandstand, Laconico thought but accepted as part of her service that she could not, in any way, be close to the Pope.
The Papal visit also serves as her spiritual 'wake-up call, a chance to reconnect with God'
"Okay, communion... No chance to have close contact with the Pope… Natanggap ko na sa sarili ko. Okay, sige, I will do my part," she recalled her thoughts upon signing up. (Okay, communion… No chance to have close contact with the Pope… I have accepted this. Okay, all right, I will do my part.)
Described by her friends as loyal, trustworthy and a very dedicated lay minister, Laconico said Pope Francis' visit provides hope for thousands of Filipino believers still reeling from the havoc wreaked by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) that "crushed not only their livelihood but also their morale."
The papal visit also serves as her spiritual "wake-up call, a chance to reconnect with God," she said.
"The past year was tough for me taking another chapter of my life," said Laconico, who now works for government.
Laconico graduated with an Asian Studies degree in 2013 from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), where Francis is set to speak to a delegation of 24,000 young people and thousands of others who seek to see him in person.
The Pontifical UST has been visited by previous popes thrice prior to Francis' scheduled youth encounter. (READ: What you need to know: Pope Francis' UST visit).
'We are all God's children'
UST Public Affairs Director Giovanna Fontanilla believes the papal visit "offers an opportunity for us Thomasians to share in the mission of evangelization."
"We are all God's children as the theme song for the papal visit says, and UST is one of the privileged places that will bring to life the lyrics of the song through the encounter of Pope Francis to the young people!" Fontanilla exclaimed.
Like Laconico, UST marketing student Jaypee Gozum believes no task is too small if it satisfies you.
When the Argentine pontiff addresses the youth inside the UST campus on January 18, the graduating 19-year-old is one of the projected 10,000 who will act as human barricade.
There are many other young Thomasian volunteers like them who have seized what Fontanilla called the opportunity "to share in the mission of evangelization."
It is Pope Francis' humility that makes him an inspiration to Catholics around the world
UST Nursing student and Youth for Family and Life (YFL) senior sister Iah Evangelista is one of around 70 stage animators who will gesture for the crowd 3 songs to be sung during the UST event – "We Are All God's Children", "Kamusta Ka Na", and the 1995 World Youth Day theme song "Tell The World of His Love".
Student journalist Ralph Hernandez will help document the historic visit. He volunteered for UST's Educational Technology Center, which was commissioned by the Dominicans for a documentary video.
Former seminarian and now UST law student Makoy Macabales will sing in a duet of Father Arnel Aquino's "My Soul Finds Rest" during the liturgical service.
Their reasons for volunteering vary. Gozum was encouraged by his devout parents; Evangelista seeks to be inspired by the "representation of Christ" on earth; Hernandez believes his privilege to tell stories is also a way to preach the Good News; and Macabales sees the chance to sing in front of the Pope as a once-in-a-lifetime blessing.
But all are in agreement that the encounter with, and visit of, the head of the Catholic Church to a country where 8 out of 10 are Catholics will lead to a deepening of one's faith.
It is Pope Francis' humility that makes him an inspiration to Catholics around the world, the young people observed.
UST seminarian Patrick Gunnacao said Francis' humility, his ability to relate to people, his connection to the people were strong influences as he conceptualized the kind of priest he wants to become.
"Ayaw ko na maging kind of person or kind of priest na after the Mass hindi mo siya makausap kasi nakakulong na siya, nakakatakot lapitan," he said. (I don't want to be the kind of person or kind of priest who, after Mass, already isolates himself, and is frightening to approach.)
"He showed us examples of compassion, charity and love na tayo normal people puwede nating gawin (that we normal people can do)," he added.
This 'rockstar' of a Pope is believed to be the representation of Christ by the Catholic faithful
Pope Francis' actions – from small things like signing up for Twitter, sending a handwritten note to a priest he did not know personally, giving in to the request for a meeting with a non-Catholic biker to bigger ones like speaking out against lavish spending in the Church, against judging homosexuals, and calling atheists moral – had made him a darling not only of the devout but of the secular press.
This "rockstar" of a Pope is believed to be the representation of Christ by the Catholic faithful.
Both Gunnacao and Laconico see Francis' visit as the Church stretching out its hand to Filipinos from all walks of life.
At the Quirino Grandstand where Laconico will assist in the communion of the masses, Gunnacao will act as an umbrella bearer.
Gunnacao, who sought to pursue priesthood as an expression of gratitude to God's blessings in his life, wishes that his fellow believers' commitment to remain pure will remain even after the papal visit.
Macabales, on the other hand, wants Francis' encounter with the Filipino people to bring about changes in state policies – so that it creates a pro-poor, pro-youth culture.
"Ito iyong gusto kong paniwaalan, na magkaroon ng more government programs to address problems of the poor and youth... I hope na ma-touch yung administration," he said. (This is what I want to believe in, that there will be more government programs to address problems of the poor and youth... I hope the administration be touched [by the visit].) – Rappler.com