Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Farewell my Pope

I was a senior in high school back in 1995 during the celebrations for World Youth Day. Our school played host to some of the delegates from other countries who flew to our country to attend the biennial religious event. I remember catching a glimpse of Pope John Paul the Second as the motorcade passed through a street near our school. He was inside the Pope-mobile, of course, waving to the crowd outside as he passed them, or rather, us. I gazed at him for no more than a split second, I think, before the throngs of people around me started to shriek and howl and wave back at him with their hands, towels and little flags, effectively obstructing my view of perhaps one of the Holiest men alive. That pretty much sums up my encounter with my namesake, the Pope.

Fast forward ten years.

JP2 was dead when I woke up Sunday afternoon. Being in the news business, I had followed the news of his health troubles and imminent death since day one with minimal interest. The end was near but it really hadn't sunk in yet, maybe because I was more concerned with job details like providing the writers with the latest medical bulletin from the Vatican or arranging a live phone report with our stringer from Rome or dispatching a news team to a vigil being held in one of the churches here in Manila. So when I turned the TV on and read on BBC the words "Pope John Paul II has died," it still came pretty much as a shock to me. For a full half hour after waking up, I switched back and forth between BBC and CNN, trying to take it all in. Images of St. Peter's Square filled with people, all wanting to express their grief at a man they hardly knew but profess to have had a major impact in their lives; world leaders offering words of sympathy and tribute to a man they said will be "sorely missed;" ordinary people around the world reacting to the news, some in shock and disbelief, others in quiet acceptance; and, finally, of the man himself, wrapped in crimson and white vestments, lying peacefully with his bishop's staff by his side. It wasn't CSI or the Amazing Race, but I was captivated. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

And then, without warning, tears started to form in my eyes. Before I knew it, they were falling on my cheeks faster than I could wipe them off with my hands. I just had to feel silly after I pictured myself there sitting alone in front of the TV, crying. But then CNN would show a lone tear-stricken face on TV clutching a rosary and then the crying would start all over again. I don't generally consider myself an overly emotional person, so how is it possible that I was crying over the death of someone I've never even met and who lived on the other side of the world?

And then I came to a realization. Here was a man who for the past 26 years was the spiritual leader of over one billion Catholics all over the world. He visited over 100 countries in an attempt to bring himself closer to his flock. (I can't forget his words when he was asked why he wanted to visit the tiny country of Azerbaijan, who had a total Catholic population of just over 120: "Because it's there"). He played a crucial role in the downfall of communism in his home country of Poland, and eventually, the whole of Europe. He was the only Pope strong enough (and humble enough) to apologize to the Jewish people for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust during World War Two; to those who were tortured and killed during the Spanish Inquisition; and various other groups whom the Catholic Church has wronged during the course of its 2,000-year history. And above all, he was a man who endeared himself to the youth. He never wavered in his belief and respect for the power of young people. And in turn, the youth of the world loved him for it. Including this one.

JP2 and I may have had our differences on various issues, but perhaps the reason I shed tears of sorrow on his death is because I feel like I've lost a member of my own family. I've never been a staunch defender of many of the Church's policies; nowadays, I don't even consider myself a practicing Catholic, but his passing means a great deal to me simply because I believe the world has lost a great leader and an even greater person. Maybe I cried for all the rest of the people in the world who loved him more than I do; I was merely sympathizing with them, crying over their loss. Maybe I wept because he was the only Pope I ever knew, and despite not really knowing who he was and what he did in his lifetime, I am going to miss him.

Whatever the reason, I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried at the death of Pope John Paul the Second. On the contrary, I'm even a little proud of it, mainly because at the very least I've proven, even to myself, that I'm not the cold, uncaring, person I've imagined myself to be. That I can show emotion, even for someone not directly involved in my life, yet someone who has had a profound impact on the rest of humanity.

John Paul's gone, and this Paul John bids him farewell. May he rest in peace.


Anonymous pacmaniac said...

nay ku po... i shouldn't have texted you last night re jessica soho's report on the pope. na-0ffend ata kita... hehe

i may not agree with everything you worte but i must say that it was a well written piece. mushy yes, but well thought out nonetheless :)

happy blogging!

3:37 PM  
Blogger peejay said...

hehe like i said, ok lang yun. and no i wasn't offended. kaw pa. besides, it was JS's report that you criticized, and frankly, i think more people should do that (criticize her reports, i mean)...

and now that i think about it...yeah it is pretty mushy. god knows i'm not the mushy type (or at least, i try hard not to be...) =)

3:55 PM  

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