By CECILE SAN AGUSTIN, Reporter
CLIFTON Rain storms could not wash away the faith and great devotion Filipinos had during Pope Francis’ papal visit to the Philippines Jan. 15-19. A record 6 million people — the largest papal gathering in history — attended the final Mass of the pope’s visit held at Rizal Park in the country’s capital city, Manila. The pope’s papal pilgrimage to the Philippines was themed “Awa at Habag,” in Tagalog or “Mercy and Compassion” in English.
For local Filipinos in the Paterson Diocese, the pope’s visit to their homeland was historic and meaningful and it showed the world the love Filipinos have for the Church. The Asian island nation is 86 percent Catholic and the Church is an important part of Filipinos’ daily lives.
Elmer Lopez Maximo, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Rockaway, and vice president of the diocesan Filipino Ministries Commission, was in the Philippines during the pope’s historic visit. He attended the Youth Encounter at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. About 24,000 youth representatives were present and Maximo attended with his teen-age niece and nephew who live in the Philippines.
Greatly moved by the experience, Maximo said, “This experience was truly providential. When I learned the pope was going to the Philippines, I had my heart set on going to see him there and made a commitment that I was going to get there somehow.”
At first, Maximo got in touch with a friend from college who lived in Tacloban which was affected by the typhoon. Unfortunately, that planned meeting with his friend didn’t happen. Then, he posted a message on Facebook and received a message from a friend in the Philippines he had not heard from in 15 years.
From that, Maximo received an invite to the youth encounter at the university and made the all-day pilgrimage to the site. The day started after midnight for the 9 a.m. Mass because of security and the long walk to the university.
“Everyone was so happy and excited as we journeyed to Mass. When I finally saw Pope Francis, I felt like Christ was before us and I felt so close to heaven. At that moment I prayed for everything that was in my heart. My nephew, who was at first hesitant to make the long journey, was really moved when he saw Pope Francis and he and my niece said they felt so lucky to be in his presence. Both of them told me their faith was increased.”
Father Vidal Gonzales, the first native Filipino priest ordained for the Paterson Diocese, was also in the Philippines during the pope’s visit. He visited his relatives living in the Visayas provinces and was away from the action surrounding the pope’s events but did follow the pope’s visit and attempted to see him.
“It was a blessing especially with the theme being about mercy and compassion. The people definitely showed that,” he said.
For Philippines-born Mila Burdeos, who works in the diocese’s Mission Office, the pope’s visit was a “great blessing.”
“The pope got to see how great the love Filipinos have for him and the Church is. It was very moving and touching. I’m so proud of the Philippines and its people.”
Burdeos especially pointed to the great sacrifices made by the people who stood for hours and sometimes more than a day to see the pope during the various papal events. “When I was watching on T.V. and I’m looking at all those people, I’m thinking, ‘wow, they did a lot to be there.’ Traveling around the Philippines isn’t easy especially with the traffic and then you have the weather and they were standing for hours and hours. I’m amazed,” she said.
Just last month, during Advent and Christmas, Burdeos visited Buculan, Philippines to attend a Eucharistic celebration and “fiesta” in honor of St. Francis Xavier following a pilgrimage in Goa, India to attend the exposition of the relics of St. Francis Xavier. While in the Philippines, she witnessed how parishes were preparing for the pope’s visit. “It was a grand preparation just as it was a grand celebration. During Masses, prayers were said for a safe and successful trip for the pope during his visit. I was moved by their excitement.”
As president of the diocesan Filipino Ministries, Burdeos feels the pope’s visit energizes local Filipinos as members of the Paterson Diocese. “We are hosting a day of recollection in March and we are already looking forward to our diocesan celebration of Ss. Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungood in September, which will happen on the last Saturday of that month.”
For Mengie Ayala, an active parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Passaic, seeing the pope visit her home country was a great occasion. “The people love the pope and the Church. Even though, life in the Philippines is difficult for many, the Filipino people continue to have a hope and faith in God.”
Because of the devastation many people faced last year due to Hurricane Haiyan, Ayala believes that was an important reason why Pope Francis made a stop to Tacloban. “Pope Francis loves the poor and he wanted to console the people there. He really wants to imitate Christ,” she said
With the pope planning to visit the United States in September, Ayala plans on seeing the pontiff. “I hope the diocese will plan something like when Pope John Paul II came to Giants Stadium in 1995,” said Ayala.
Long after the pope’s visit, Father Gonzalez believes Pope Francis has made a significant impact on the country during his pilgrimage. “The people continue to remember the pope. At one of the malls in the country, relics of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II are on display along with images of Pope Francis. It shows how much the country loves these great leaders of the Church and the great appreciation each time a pope visits the Philippines.”