Editor’s Note: This reflection was posted on our partner blog, Raids Across the Color Line, on September 2. It is the first of a two-part series on the Pope’s January 2015 trip to the Philippines. It was written by Karen B. Enriquez, Assistant Professor of Comparative Theology at Xavier University.
As the U.S. gears up for the Pope’s visit later this month, I find myself going back to earlier this year when Pope Francis visited the Philippines. I was lucky enough to have been in Manila during that time and to be caught up in the wave of Lolo Kiko’s visit. The last time a Pope visited the Philippines was in 1996 when John Paul II held World Youth Day in Manila. At that gathering, around five million people attended the closing mass. It was considered the largest papal crowd in history; that is, until the visit of Pope Francis this past January where an estimated six million people came for his final mass.
To be honest, it is hard for me to put into words what I, and many others, experienced during that time. Whenever I talk about it, I am led to a welling of emotion and a desire to revert to silence in the realization that the experience was too profound to be captured by words. And yet words are necessary so that the experience can be processed and its depth and wisdom shared with others. And so in “fear and trembling,” in the face of the limitations of my prose and reflections, I write of the Pope’s visit to the Philippines and what I believe were some of the gifts he bestowed on us.
The Gift of Presence: “I am here to be with you”
During Pope Francis’ trip to the Philippines, he visited Tacloban, one of the cities hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) in 2013. Despite the threat of a storm that day that led him to cut his visit short, he insisted that he wanted to be there. During his homily, it became clear why he chose to come to the Philippines. He said, “When I saw from Rome the catastrophe, I felt that I had to be here and on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you. A little bit late, I have to say, but I am here.”…