“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (1995 World Youth Day Theme)
It was 17 years ago when my family decided to attend the thanksgiving mass of our beloved HH Pope John Paul II at the Luneta Grandstand for the celebration of the World Youth Day ’95.
Saturday, on the eve of the thanksgiving mass, my whole family, including the family of my Uncle Felipe and Uncle Cesong parked our vehicle at the V.Cruz area of the Roxas Blvd. There were so much people from different nation crowded the boulevard thus giving up any means of transportation. We then began our walk towards the Luneta Park. Along the way, we met different faces and races painted with happy and festive mood. Then there he was, standing inside the Pope Mobile and waving to the crowd. Tired yet happy to see the nation celebrates life. The Pope was not flushing in red because of the tropical Manila heat nor the tiring day did he have meeting the Youth of the World. It was because he was filled with Holiness and love showered by GOD. And at that moment, we knew, we were blessed. I can still feel the happiness up to now, seeing the Pope, in flesh for the first time in my life, waving and smiling back at me.
Later that night, we arrived at the front of the Luneta Grandstand at the area of Manila Chinese Garden. We settled our mats and called it a night. Before I closed my eyes, I saw a 2 peso coin right beside me and I knew it was my father’s which fell off from his pocket. I kept it.
Early next day, the crowd grew and the space where we sleep was being stepped by people trying to squeeze in onto another free but limited space. We got up and realized that the whole Luneta Grandstand is so much packed with people now. With kids as part of our delegation, half-heartedly, we packed up and decided to go home. We struggled to get our way through the crowd but the people grew thicker and thicker as we move way heading back to the area of the US Embassy and back to the boulevard. My cousin Jongjong (Oliver Ravelo) and I were blocked-off and decided to climb the Chinese Garden fence to move on. When we came down the fence, my heart froze as I had realized what we had done wrong. It was very sudden. We got lost in the middle of the park. With my back pack on my back and a small casserole on my cousin’s hands, I took over the lead and headed towards the LRT location thinking that will be the best area to start heading home. We were 13 years old.
Staring at the foot of the LRT United Nation Station, I can’t seem to move on. The fare was Php 10.00 each going to EDSA Station (LRT fare year 1995). I almost cried when I realize that we only got Php 2.00 which fell off from my father’s pocket the night before.
Inhaling all the courage I can get, I told my cousin that we will walk as far as we can just to lessen our fare. At 13, we only managed to walk up to the Philippine General Hospital. Finally, we took the jeepney ride.
We gave our last money to the driver and told him we are heading to EDSA-Rotonda. “You’ve got the wrong route”, “this is up to Libertad only”. Every eye inside the jeep stared at us. Not knowing what to do next, we just agreed to hop off at Libertad. The fare was P1.50 minimum per person so I have to had my cousin sat on my lap (I was bigger than him).
It was very traffic and we were routed to exit the Quirino Hiway due to the advancing crowd towards the Luneta Grandstand. Our jeepney driver was redirected by policemen to stop at the shoulder gutter and give way to a motorcade.
Hunger, lack of sleep, anxiety and fear set us in as we stop but like a heavy steel lifted up from my shoulders, I saw the familiar face. Smiling, waving, still blushing and filled with holiness, Pope John Paul II passes by. I cannot explain the joy the Holy Spirit casted upon me. It was his Holiness, waving to two kids who were lost and scared but patient and brave. Everyone seems to be light-hearted. Right at that moment, the Holy Spirit was with us. JP2 was with us. We are blessed. God was with us, all the time. HE never left us a single second, of our lives.
We continue to head home, drop off at the last jeepney stop and walked towards EDSA up to my Mama’s office in Tramo, Pasay. When we arrived at the office, I immediately phoned home and everybody was there anxiously waiting for any feedback from the two of us. They were in the event of reporting us to the police as missing kids.
My cousin, who has been very supportive on that journey back in World Youth Day 1995, went to Cagayan De Oro to move on with his own life. Oliver returned back here in Manila last year to apply for an overseas job, and in the event of the beatification of our beloved pontiff, we were united, unconsciously, to witness the solemn blessing of our JP2 as he enters Blessedness.
Now the Pope, even after life, never fails to share his blessings, by curing his faithful follower from Parkinson’s disease. This miracle gave way to our beloved JP2 to be beatified and to give more blessing.
It was not an easy journey, but one well worth the effort. For when we reach our final destination, it will be a new life with Christ. This Lenten season, our hearts need to be open to God’s message.
Oliver and I, 13 years old, taken at a beach in Batangas, same year after the World Youth Day.