Pilgrimages are journeys, either short and long. One can expect them to be arduous, or they can be unexpectedly miserable. On the day of Pope Francis’ Luneta mass, it was the worst on the streets.
At about 4 A.M., I checked my Facebook — a status update from a volunteer who was issued an ID-and-all had already turned back, due to a mess of cars and crowds along Maria Orosa street. Oh wow.. that happens to be the main entrance. What now? But my head was hurting to consider it seriously, and in a few moments I was bound for Manila City.
On the A.M. frequency, Ted Failon’s voice had an alerted tone, still in rapid dialogue with a frantic field reporter who was observing the events along Maria Orosa street. Ayan na! Ayan na! Hindi na mapigilan ang tao! Tumba na ang barikada!
An hour since the radio reportage, we finally made it to Orosa street corner U.N. Avenue, where there was an apparent confusion (like the scene in Ice Age where the animals were pointlessly walking away from the breaking ice). There was a thick, disordered line of people, made unclear by stranded cars. Cars inched against the pedestrians, who were split-seconds away from being squished against the parked bus. It was only 6 A.M., on a Sunday.
Tracing downstreet U.N. Avenue, until about Del Pilar, we found the “start” of the line. At that point, it was getting cramped on either side of the street: the “line” going to Maria Orosa official venue entrance with scanners, and the “line” trying to find the back of the former. In the chaos of things, there were multiple quick-myths being echoed. ‘Di na kayo papapasukin. Sarado na sa Roxas. Yung mga may-ID lang ang pwede. But we were in line and, just like everyone else, we mentally vacillated with blankness whether this would be a fruitful effort or not. Surely, the graying lola who was trying to cut me in line wasn’t mentally vacillating. She was leaping and elbowing me!
That early morn, the sky was overcast. “Biyaya yan ni Pope sa ‘tin, na hindi gawing mainit ‘tong araw na to,” a lady said, while our bodies clung like in an MRT rush hour. If my mental and physical toughness was tested in high school special CAT, then my own patience was tested in that stupid line. Truly, I could not fathom each of everyone’s motivations as to why getting themsleves stuck in this thick chaos is worth their time! We would be the philosophical laughing stock of born-again Christians and INC, I thought to myself.
After two and a half hours, we would learn that we just wasted sleep, time and energy. Maria Orosa had been blocked instead, and the scanners were moved to the Taft Avenue entrance. We turned a corner around U.N. Avenue going to Taft Ave., whilst still trying to follow a “line”. We eventually deposited ourselves into a free-flowing, lineless sea of people in back of Rizal Park. The scanners were indeed there, but they weren’t working, and people just passed right through it. We didn’t have to line up. We could’ve just gone straight there. It was a bummer, like Lapu-Lapu’s huge bum, and it had started to rain.
Sitting on our mats, the rain turned the ground into mud, and we were forced to stand up. On the video screen, Pope Francis had boarded his Popemobile, headed for Luneta. People started to get into a cheering frenzy and continued to cram the space, continuously increasing human density within the area. It was becoming extremely unsafe. I pitied ourselves, the Filipino-Catholic people. All to see the Pope. We decided to get out of that cramped place and go back near the Lapu-Lapu statue, where there was more air to breathe (except near the portalets). Squeezing one’s way through barricades of bodies is hard enough, it was harder with the cold through one’s raincoat and wet socks, by slipping every so often from the mud, with sore hands and shoulders from carrying bags, and without enough sleep. It was a miserable situation; undeniably a far cry from the organized, large-scale worship of other sects.
Suddenly, there was a roar. Pope Francis! He’s here! We positioned ourselves at the screen behind Lapu-Lapu’s bum. The mass was about to begin.
The huge orchestra played through our local set of speakers, and the camera panned towards the altar. It was the same processional song used in the first mass at the Manila Cathedral. All that time, the rain started to get stronger. Onscreen, Pope Francis lightly swung the censer, just like how our local priests did it— but this time it was him doing it on the altar.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As if my body knew, I began to calm down and focus. It was a Sunday, a day of obligation, and I was hearing mass with Pope Francis. Suddenly transfixed at that thought, I felt more and more alive. Even though Pope Francis’ homily was weakly audible, I listened and clung onto each word. In spite of all my internal negativity, I felt moved by an unseen force.
In a quick realization, I realized that the mass could not have been any more meaningful without that day’s difficulties. I was a pilgrim. Everyone there — the lola, the little kids, the people who commuted all the way from outside Metro Manila. We stood there in the rain, with sore feet and grumbling stomachs. We heard mass, and we fulfilled the purpose of braving through that whole day. Whether it was unsafe, miserable, and ridiculous was beside the point. It was about making any form of a difficult journey, and quenching it spiritually in the end.
Pope Francis could have went somewhere else. He could have visited Obama or the Queen of England. He could have just went back to Italy, but no. He booked a flight to this little, uninteresting country with so many problems. He chose us. Then, for this final, most difficult day, we also chose him; we journeyed to him. Mabuhay ang Santo Padre! Mabuhay si Kristo!