Sunday, February 22, 2015


POPE PIUS XII MEETS KAPAMPANGANS IN ROME. A pilgrim group, composed of some Kapampangan prelates, holds a rare audience with the Pope at the Vatican in 1953. Among those in the photo are Frs. Manuel V. Del Rosario and Fr. Jose de la Cruz. 

 For four days in January (15-19), “Pope Francis Fever” gripped the country, as the 266th Vicar of Christ made a pastoral visit to our country—specifically to meet Typhoon Yolanda victims-- arriving here to a rapturous welcome seen nowhere else in the world. Everyone, it seems, was out on the road, hoping to get a chance encounter with the good Pope. But luckier still were the few chosen to participate in the official activities of the papal visit, both directly and indirectly.

 In the past, a smattering of Kapampangans have had meetings with the Holy Father. The foremost Kapampangan religious figure, Rufino Cardinal Santos, for example, received his red hat from Pope John Paul XXIII, who, between 1961-62 set a precedent by naming more princes of the Church to a record high total of 87 cardinals. Cardinal Santos’s retinue in Rome included his aide Msgr. Manuel V. Del Rosario of Angeles. At the installation of the new cardinal on 28 March 1960, a VIP kabalen was seated on the front row—Vice President Diosdado Macapagal of Lubao.

 The first ever papal visit to the Philippines by a supreme pontiff on 27 November 1970 afforded more Filipinos the chance to see Pope Paul VI. Again, Cardinal Santos was at the forefront of arranging this fateful visit, marred by an attempted assassination of the Holy Father’ by a knife-wielding Bolivian painter.

 Such close encounters with the Pope, however, were reserved for the more exalted figures of the Philippine church and state. The two Philippine visits of the charismatic Pope John Paul II saw a loosening of the protocol, making the Holy Father more accessible to all. This tradition has also been embraced by the current pope, Pope Francis, the pope of many firsts. As a result, in his 2015 visit, many kabalens had this once-in-a lifetime opportunity to leave their marks in the historic event, through their personal involvements in key programs of the papal visit, that continues to be the talk of the nation.

 Our Kapampangan president, Benigno Aquino III, led the way in welcoming the Pope the day after his arrival at the MalacaƱang. His address, however, did away with the niceties associated with the usual warm Philippine greetings, and instead, proceeded to make references to the failings of the past administration, and the indifference of the clergy to point out political sins. Sure, the president pointed out the roles of Cardinal Sin and the rising star that is Cardinal Tagle, but this did not do much to dry P'noy’s wet blanket welcome. Even the joke about the Pope being a “security nightmare” for the Philippines was not funny. Observers and columnists had a field day calling the president ‘s action ”inappropriate”, “boorish” and that he “missed his day in history”.

 On a more positive note, an acclaimed Kapampangan ecclesiastical artist, Wilfredo Tadeo Layug, was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Palo to carve a Filipiniana Marian image that took centerstage at the papal mass at Tacloban on January 17.

 Millions at the venue and on TV watched as Pope Francis venerated the image briefly, a beautiful 7-foot work of art, showing the Blessed Virgin carrying the Christ Child, his little hand extended to 3 children caught in the storm. The crucified likeness of Christ seen at the Leyte event was also carved by the master artist. (It is also interesting to note that the granite top of the altar table was made by a shop in Angeles City). Layug also created the central crucifix for the papal mass at the Quirino grandstand in Luneta.

As if these contributions were not enough, Layug also gifted Pope Francis with a smaller Marian image carved from wooden debris salvaged from the Palo Cathedral that was devastated by the super typhoon.

 The Kapampangan language was heard three times on separate occasions in the course of the pope’s visit: at the Encounter with Families at Mall of Asia, at the liturgical services at the University of Santo Tomas and at the concluding papal mass at the Quirino Grandstand. Young Kapampangan Bien Carlo Manuntag of San Fernando, read the Prayer of the Faithful in Kapampangan , heard by the Pope himself, and by millions of devotees in Luneta.

 Some 100 Kapampangan families were invited to join the Encounter with Families at the Mall of Asia, and among the lucky ones chosen to participate in the unprecedented event were the Magtoto (San Fernando), Tony Santiago (Porac) and Savina de la Cruz (Arayat) families.

 Finally, in the Tacloban leg of the papal visit, it was a Kapampangan pilot who flew Pope Francis out of the typhoon-threatened town. Capt. Roland Narciso of Angeles also advised the papal retinue of the danger posed by the typhoon, which led to the shortened visit. Capt. Narciso, member of the PMA Class of 1995, was the chief pilot who safely flew the Pope back to Manila, in a PAL Airbus A320 plane.

 Meeting the pope in one’s lifetime was once a remote possibility, but now the dream has been made real for Kapampangans blessed to have seen Pope Francis up close, whom the world sees as truly a “people’s pope”. As one papal fan gushed, “to stand by next to the Pope, is the next best thing to standing next to Jesus!”