Surprises. We experienced our fair share of these on the road to and at the exhilarating and faith-enriching visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines.
We were invited last August to be part of the 1,000-member choir for the pope’s closing Mass on Jan 18. This was after we sang as one of the choirs supporting Jesuit Fr Manoling Francisco in his prayer concert at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
As fellow chorister, Mr Ben Dominguez, said, “We were not expecting that something bigger than the Fr Manoling concert was going to happen. It was humbling and really exciting.”
Our group, St Francis Xavier Choir, comprises mostly parishioners of the Churches of St Ignatius and St Vincent de Paul, as well as Church of the Divine Mercy.
We started rehearsals in October by learning the basic melody of the newly composed liturgical hymns. The choral arrangements for all voices would come a month later. With each practice we gelled as a group.
In mid-December I flew back to Manila to attend a friend’s wedding and celebrate Christmas and New Year with my family. A new work opportunity had just fizzled out so I took the chance to extend my stay until a few days after the pope left Manila.
How fortuitous this turned out to be! I was the only one from our group who got to attend all the combined choir and orchestra rehearsals. A recollection was also conducted for the choir members and other helpers.
During the recollection, we were reminded that while it was understandable to be proud of being part of this incredible event, we should not brag about it. Each of us was called and chosen by God not because of our abilities nor good singing voices, but for the very reason of doing God’s work. This was a service, not a performance.
Finally, on Jan 17, our contingent got to rehearse at the Quirino Grandstand with the full choir and orchestra. We also took this time to familiarise ourselves with the placements and positions during the Mass, the venue entrances, exits and washrooms.
Ms Joy Bautista, remarked, “Being part of the choir was truly an unexpected divine appointment!Pope Francis was right to say, ‘Let God surprise you’.”
The big day
Despite anticipating a huge turnout, none of us was prepared for the deluge of people along the papal motorcade route. Our call time was a good six hours before the event, yet many of us knew we had to be on foot much earlier than that.
A group of us, six women, left our hotel with the objective of crossing to the side of the road cleared for the papal motorcade as quickly as possible, to avoid the crowds.
This initially seemed bleak since there was no break for us to go through. I prayed for a path to be cleared and lo and behold, a few metres in front of us was an overpass closed-off for security purposes.
We were even escorted across to the other side by security men! I was awed by the manner in which God answered my simple request.
In Manila, the pope’s sincerity was met with a disciplined, joyful, patient and resilient crowd that no amount of waiting, crowding, walking nor inclement weather could disperse. Watching them gave me goosebumps.
Another of our members, Ms Pamela Joyce Foronda, recalled, “The many months of preparation have finally come to this and a different kind of excitement was building up within me – one that made me sit in reverent silence – as we waited for the pope to arrive.”
As we sang with much gusto, some of us held back tears. All of us shared an exhilarating feeling of elation. We felt incredibly blessed and grateful.
Ms Pamela’s sister, MsDominique Joyce, echoed the sentiments of many of us: “Tears uncontrollably flowed from my eyes when I saw the people welcoming the pope at every possible location, when I saw the pope and his smile, when I heard the message the pope brought with him through his speeches and his actions.
“Whatever caused the onset of these tears was inexplicable. All I can say is that those tears seem to wash away all worries and just left me with a feeling of joy and peace.”
The pope leaves us humbled by his actions and challenged as to how to live Christ’s teachings of mercy and compassion especially to those in the peripheries.
Perhaps our collective feelings are best summed up by Mr Dominguez, who helped out at the prayer concert and gave his all at the papal Mass.
“The whole experience was one for the books! It was very special singing with the pope, for God. The one thing you love to do and doing it for the glory of God, it was quite humbling.”
By Maria Victoria P Villarea
|Touched by the pope and his message
‘Pope Francis is the most wonderful example of humility and service to mankind. For me, he truly fulfils his role as Christ’s vicar. I saw Jesus in him as he went through the crowds, pausing to kiss the children and to touch the sick. He humbled me in so many ways. If the pope himself is able to do this, so should we as members of his flock.
My heart is bursting with thanksgiving and my faith has definitely been rekindled by this experience with Pope Francis. I am propelled to now find ways to put my faith into action.’
– Ms Gladys Casacop Torrado
‘Even from afar, I immediately felt the pope’s consoling presence and was in awe of his eagerness to reach out to the masses that grew in number despite the steady rain.
During the Mass, I found myself choking back tears in an effort to sing, and on the pope’s second time to go around [to greet] the people after the Mass, I felt greatly humbled...’
– Ms Pamela Joyce Foronda
‘I was overawed. Tears fell when I saw him waving from his popemobile. Seeing him strengthened my faith… From where I stood in the choir, I saw the masses of drenched people and hearing the pope speak with compassion was very moving.
I was touched by the homily, especially when he strongly encouraged family prayer. We are trying to do that as a family.’
– Ms Grace Angel
‘Pope Francis entrusted the Filipinos to the Santo Niño, and we are especially called to be ‘outstanding’ missionaries of the faith. This tells me that one should not stop at just being good, but must work towards holiness. Pope Francis is proof that this is achievable, and if we say he inspires us, then we must be compelled to do as he says and does – to be true to our identity as members of God’s family.’
– Ms Joy Bautista
‘I was touched by his message to stick to the values taught by the Church, and exercise mercy and compassion to the abused and abandoned.
I realised that in my own family I’m not as compassionate. I must change this before I can be merciful and compassionate to others.’
– Mr Arenas Mark Aniceto
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