By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Rare are the saints of the Catholic church who have been seen, encountered, or heard by so many people. And on April 27, Pope Francis canonized the man who could be the most-met saint yet.
Filipino Catholics count two countrymen among the church’s thousands of saints. But many of them will probably relate more to St. John Paul II, who led the church for more than half a century, visiting almost every country and being exposed to the most media coverage.
It is the former pope’s two visits to Manila that stand out in Filipinos’ memories. He first came here in 1981–three years after becoming pope–during the waning days of strongman Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Pope John Paul II’s trip was soon followed by Marcos’s purported lifting of martial law.
The 10th World Youth Day in January 1995 became the pontiff’s last trip to the Philippines and his most remembered.
The highlight of the week-long event was a youth vigil and mass at the Luneta Park in Manila. John Paul II’s final mass drew more than 4 million people from all over the world in what has been considered the largest audience for a papal event. It has also been described as the largest Christian gathering in history, being mirrored only by the same pope’s funeral in ten years later.
TV Patrol’s Katherine De Castro joined young pilgrims who camped out at the open field just to see and hear the pope, who exhorted them in his message to reserve their highest worship and emulation for Jesus Christ.
Watch her report of the reactions at the youth vigil here:
The papal visit to Manila also saw a heightened effort by the local broadcast stations to air live the entirety of the pope’s activities.
While GMA 7 bagged rights to the coverage of the World Youth Day, ABS-CBN found ways to bypass the restrictions imposed by its competitor.
Since their shots of the papal motorcade were often deliberately blocked, ABS-CBN News crews employed Meralco cherry-picker trucks that emerged above the multitudes bearing cameramen and antennas.
During the final mass, an umbrella smuggled near the platform concealed a satellite antenna.
The thrust for live coverage continued well into Pope John Paul’s final moments in Manila before his flight to nearby Papua New Guinea.
Sent off by then Pres. Fidel Ramos and students waving flags of Vatican City, the pope honored young Filipinos who remained dignified despite the country’s widespread poverty.
“Those who in anyway served the needs of so many pilgrims, may God reward each one of you,” he said.
“With particular affection, I say thank you to the young people who have been the main actors in the 10th World Youth Day. I wish to thank everyone for the warmth and graciousness of the hospitality I have received from the first moment of my arrival.”
When the pope paused, the crowd cheered “We love you, Papa!”–a variation of the more-expressed “John Paul 2, we love you!”
As John Paul ascended the staircase to his chartered Philippine Airlines plane, he turned back a number of times to wave goodbye to the Filipinos at the tarmac.
Below are video highlights of the pope’s final moments on Philippine soil from a TV Patrol report by Danny Buenafe:
Since the 10th World Youth Day in Manila, no pontiff has again landed Philippine soil.
Now that John Paul II has been proclaimed a saint, Filipinos who encountered him in 1995 have more reason to treasure their last glimpse of the pope closest to their hearts.