Meeting the Pope ( story )

This is a repost. This is a good news , a good story, a personal expereince of a reporter meeting the Pope
  • PDI reporter teary in Rome for losing bag, meeting Pope
    By Juliet Labog-Javellana
    Last updated 03:42am (Mla time) 06/10/2007
    VATICAN CITY—Meeting the Pope was an experience next to none.
    Coming as it did the day after I was robbed of my belongings, the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI in his private library could not have come at a better time.
    While being led to the high-security Apostolic Palace past the Vatican Gardens at the back of St. Peter’s Basilica and up to the papal residence by elevator, I already got goose bumps. Even the air smelled holy.
    The moment I was called to approach the Pope as he stood in the reception hall of his magnificent library, I felt my knees tremble.
    And when the Holy Father looked down at me, smiled and extended his hands in welcome, I completely broke down in tears.
    “You are from the Philippines,” he said in greeting. I could not speak. With both hands, I nervously grabbed at his hand to kiss his ring, and between sobs I asked him to bless me and my family.
    I had ready in my pocket pictures of my family and loved ones, including that of my stillborn daughter Maria Sophia, for the Pope’s blessing. I never got to take them out but was assured that when the Holy Father blesses you, he blesses everything.
    The Pope, whose face looks much softer in person, did not pull back his hand even when I overdid my turn. He squeezed my hand back.
    As I walked away from my first papal encounter, I saw my media colleagues Rocky Tobias and Faye Velasco, who stood next in line after me, approaching the Pope in tears.
    “I cried because as a Catholic, it is your ardent hope to see the Pope. By seeing him, it’s as if you are close to heaven,” said Rocky, a reporter of the state-run National Broadcasting Network.
    “I felt complete as a Catholic after seeing the Pope,” she said.
    Reporter Paolo Romero of the Philippine Star said he was content to admire the grandeur of the Palace and was not really expecting much until we were suddenly told we would have a chance to greet the Pope.
    “I was overwhelmed. As a Catholic, it is my desire to meet the head of the Church,” he said.
    My papal encounter was a bonus from covering the visit of President Macapagal-Arroyo who came to the Vatican for the canonization of Marie Eugenie, foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, for a meeting with the Pope and later for a pilgrimage to the miraculous Our Lady of Fatima shrine and an official visit to Portugal.
    Though fearful of long-haul flights, I asked for the chance to cover the trip because of its spiritual value and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Pope up close.
    But only one slot was given to print reporters to cover the President’s audience with the Pope and I did not win in the drawing of lots for the limited media pool.
    Before we left Manila, reporter Lira Fernandez of who also covered the President’s trip, and I were badgering Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and MalacaƱang media officer Gerry Eser for more slots so the rest of us would have a chance to cover the event.
    Aside from our offices having spent several thousand dollars to cover the President’s trip, not a lot of ordinary people get the chance to meet the Pope, we argued.
    When Gerry was able to wangle one more slot for print reporters, my name was drawn. Besides myself, Rocky and Faye of the Presidential News Desk, the others in the media pool were Paolo Romero of the Philippine Star, Irwin Darlucio, cameraman of NBN, and Julius Reyes and Gerry Carual, the President’s close-in photographers.
    Al fresco thieves
    However, the night before our appointment with the Pope, my bag containing my papers, money and other personal belongings was stolen while my media colleagues and I were having dinner near the Hotel Torino.
    After a long day covering the canonization rites, we had sat down for an al fresco dinner. When Roy Mabasa of the Bulletin put down his bag on the floor between our seats, I followed suit thinking it would be safer there. I did not notice the narrow gap between the floor and the wall behind us, through which a thief apparently squeezed in and fished out my handbag.
    None of us saw who did it. Our attention was distracted by a singer who kept returning to our table.
    Afraid to leave valuables in hotel rooms, I lost everything, including my wallet, personal and office money for the trip, all my ID and credit cards, driver’s license, cell phone, tape recorder (even my notebook where I took down notes for a story I had yet to write), and jewelry, including a special cross pendant given to my baby girl by her ninong that I intended to have blessed by the Pope.
    Gone were the pictures and special items whose meaning and value were priceless for me, including messages in my phone from my friends and loved ones during the tragic loss of my second child.
    I was jarred by the experience. I worried about about how I would finish the coverage of the President’s trip all the way to Portugal and how I was to get home without any money. I worried about the $4,000 that my office had given me for the trip.
    There being no embassy people available, I was lucky that Elsa Lim, managing director of the Land Bank of the Philippines and a friend of Manila Bulletin colleague Fil Sionil, was around. She took me to a police station to report the theft and acted as my interpreter. The police did not even bother to check out the restaurant where I lost my bag. The police chief, however, promised to try to find my things, if not the money and jewelry, and said I should check on the status of my case through their website.
    Lost everything
    I lost everything except for my passport, which was taken from me earlier to be brought to the Vatican for our accreditation, and my digital camera which I had luckily placed inside my pocket.
    But that night I was more worried about not making it to the meeting with the Pope the following day. I did not want to disappoint my editors and myself.
    But I had also lost my Vatican ID without which I could not enter the papal residence.
    After appeals were made by press undersecretaries Isabel de Leon and Martin Crisostomo, Sister Giovanna, the press officer of the Holy See, agreed to give me a duplicate ID that morning. But first she asked to see the police report about the theft of my bag and ID cards.
    Soon Sister Giovanna was leading us to the room next to the Pope’s library. At first, she said there was no guarantee the media pool would get to greet the Pope. We were told the Pope’s schedule was very tight because he was giving an audience to two other heads of state that day.
    We were there only to cover portions of Ms Arroyo’s 30-minute audience with the Pope. Only the President and her official delegation were to have the privilege of greeting the Pope individually.
    Blessed to be in same room
    We were herded to the ante-chamber where Sister Giovanna showed us the original paintings of the Apostles Peter and Paul. She told us to keep quiet, stay fixed in our places and take pictures only discreetly.
    Just as Ms Arroyo entered the ante-chamber, the Pope emerged from the library to welcome her. We were allowed to witness only the first moments of the private meeting.
    Sister Giovanna said the Pope’s secretary would indicate if the media pool would be allowed to greet the Pope.
    And if we did not get the chance, Sister Giovanna said consolingly that we were blessed just being in the same room with the Pope. While we waited in anticipation, we were given rosaries blessed by the Pope as souvenirs.
    Seeing the bag of rosaries and other religious items that we had brought, Sister Giovanna told us to lay them the table and the Pope would bless them as he passed by.
    When the President and her delegation finished greeting the Pope one by one and left the library, our hopes began to fade. But the Pope stayed after the delegation left and we were given the signal to greet him. Sister Giovanna pushed me ahead of the line and my heart fluttered when the Pope smiled at me.
    I completely forgot about my lost bag!
    The meeting with the Pope capped a memorable coverage for me, which included witnessing and reporting on the canonization of Marie Eugenie and three other new saints at the St. Peter’s Square last Sunday.
    Memorable coverage
    Also on Sunday, Sister Giovanna and Jesuit Fr. Joe Quilongquilong gave us a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica without having to brave the queue. Some 40,000 people are said to go on a tour of the place every day. We were shown the tomb of Pope John Paul II, which is what draws the sea of people to the Vatican.
    On the same Monday afternoon, we flew with the President to Portugal for the pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima which was built on the site where three shepherd children saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary 90 years ago.
    Being in that miraculous place was just as moving an experience. We bought candles to light our prayers for those dear to us. I prayed for my new baby girl Julianna and her older brother Julius, my husband Marlon and our loved ones, leaving their pictures in the prayer box. I especially prayed to the Virgin Mary to take care of our “little angel” who died in my womb and to ease my pain from her death.
    Losing my bag cost several thousand euros, not to mention the things of sentimental value to me.
    But meeting the Pope and being in Fatima were priceless.