Covering the Papal Visit: People over Pope Francis
If there’s one recurring image I have throughout the 5-day intense coverage of the papal visit, it is the thick crowd that always surrounded the venues where Pope Francis was.
It was understandable. Aside from the Philippines being predominantly Catholic, the charm and the words of the Holy Father acted like magnets for many Filipinos visibly drawn to the state guest.
As a field reporter, I was embedded in these crowds.
I spent January 15 to 19 mostly trapped in a sea of people who were all hoping to get a glimpse of the "rockstar" patriarch of one of the biggest religious sectors in the world. For at least 8 hours a day, I contorted my body in ways I previously thought impossible, just to get through small spaces to talk to as much people as I could.
One may ask why a lot of reporters did this even if the entire duration of his events were livestreamed – shown on the Internet or on your local television network. Why would someone with a media ID still immerse with the crowd and not stay in the less cramped designated areas for the media with a much better view?
The answer is simple, at least on my part. The people who flocked to the different activities – even the Apostolic Nunciature which became the pontiff's official residence in Manila – were, to me, the entire focus of the papal visit.
The millions of people who spent long hours under the rain or in the chilly evenings in Manila gave color and depth to the otherwise linear proceedings of the visit. In fact, on the Pope’s flight back to Rome, he mentioned how the deep, intense gestures of the Filipinos struck him the most during his visit.
The crowd was a mix of people from all walks of life: there were those rich enough to check in nearby hotels, those who were content in tents and mats, and there were people who braved the cold and wet concrete slabs. And behind the gestures the Pope mentioned are more important stories – a mix of positive and negative ones, waiting to be told.
Being with them led me to stories I wouldn't have found had I been situated somewhere else.
The people opened up and shared a few laughs with me as our legs ached after standing for long hours. What struck me was that they did not treat me as a member of the media – despite the huge ID that suggested otherwise – but as a friend accompanying them as they waited to be blessed by Pope Francis.
A funny instance happened while I was trapped in a crowd outside the University of Santo Tomas (UST), while waiting for the gates to open in the wee hours of the morning. Behind me was a teenager, a youth delegate, who also did not know what to do as the people around us shouted their frustrations over the seemingly disorganized entrance process. Instead of using our energy to complain, we just talked and I found out that he was doing his part in following the Pope's advice to help the poor. (READ: Youth take up Pope Francis' dare to serve the poor)
I heard so many painful, funny, and sometimes embarrassing stories which pushed people to hang on to their Catholic faith. Some people said they nearly gave up on life but were reminded that everything would get better. I saw the exhaustion beneath the layer of eagerness and enthusiasm on their faces.
The people would sometimes get frustrated, angry, annoyed, and mad for whatever reason. But these emotions turned into tears of joy and happiness once they would see the Holy Father wave at them even for a few seconds.
As each event of the papal visit ended, millions of people would go home with the image of Pope Francis and his words in their minds. They would probably cherish them throughout their lives.
I saw Pope Francis 4 times throughout his visit and I wouldn't deny that it meant something even for a non-Catholic like me. But more than the opportunity to see him, I will treasure more the stories and the conversations I had with the people. – Rappler.com