[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] Faith tucked in elders’ four encounters with popes


For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.


MANILA—Rafael Cortes, 78, has lived through four papal visits in the country.

His first encounter with a Supreme Pontiff, Pope Paul VI, was in 1970 when the Philippines was first graced by a pope. The country was then under the second term of then president Ferdinand Marcos and was recently struck by Typhoon Yoling, the strongest typhoon to hit the country before Yolanda in 2013.

Cortes, now a retired lawyer, acted as a security marshal at the Aristocrat restaurant in Manila the day Pope Paul VI arrived, on November 27, 1970.

Rafael Cortes, 78 (photo by MIA ROSIENNA MALLARI / The Filipino Connection)

Rafael Cortes, 78 (photo by MIA ROSIENNA MALLARI / The Filipino Connection)

A little more than a decade after, Mr. Cortes also witnessed Pope St. John Paul II during the canonization of St. Lorenzo Ruiz in 1981 in Luneta Park. Cortes also saw John Paul II in 1995, the year when the Philippines hosted the biennial World Youth Day.

“Of course, just like everybody else I wanted to see the Pope,” said Cortes, who was at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas when he saw John Paul II.

Twenty years after, he continued his streak and lined up in the wee hours of the morning to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. His efforts did not disappoint, he stationed himself early by UST’s Arch of the Centuries (found just inside UST’s Espana gate). Cortes was one of the first to see the Jesuit Pope Francis, having been in the front row in his area near the Arch.

“I never thought popes will be coming here in UST,” Cortes said.

Twirling a mini-Vatican flag in his hands, he is proud with a “simple personal connection” with Pope Francis’ timeline. They’re both born on the same year: Cortes on October 1936, on Jorge Mario Bergoglio two months after (on December 17).

When Mr. Cortes graduated from De La Salle University with a degree in Commerce, it was the same time —1958— Bergoglio entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Argentina

The pope’s and the papal fan’s timelines further went on similarly. In 1980, both men were teaching in college: Mr. Cortes a full-time faculty at Colegio de San Juan de Letran instructing law and Pope Francis as then the rector of Colegio Maximo and a theology teacher.

The year 1992 was a highlight year for both Bergoglio and Cortes. Pope Francis was ordained as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, while Mr. Cortes was promoted as commissioner to the Central Board of Assessment Appeals of the Department of Finance, where he worked at that time.

Cortes is one to know the basics of the Catholic faith as well, having served as an acolyte in 1946 with influence from his mother who was a regular churchgoer. A brother of Cortes was a Dominican priest and he had several friends who were sworn to a life of service under the Lord as well, including the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.

Inside the UST campus when Pope Francis came last January 18, Mr. Cortes looked around and said that the papal visit was more than different compared to the previous ones. There were no barricades whatsoever that time, the police forces were more lenient, and one had not much problem in getting to the venue.

But what struck him most is the intensity and the number of people, greater than he remembered during the first three visits.

Of all the Vicars of Christ that he could remember, he considers Pope Francis the closest to his heart, even feeling more “excited” today than the rest of the other Papal visits he partook in.

“Pope Francis seems more familiar to me, I guess because he always comes out to the media.. He had become a familiar name. Even if you haven’t met him and seen him yet, he’s familiar already to you. You already know how good he is as a person of God.”

When asked after Francis’ UST visit whether he felt tired or irritated during the event, Cortes felt youthful vigor: “I think I feel the comfort of the Pope’s presence,” he said. “It is like I don’t feel this old.”


* * *


MANILA—Former travel agency owner Elizabeth Horca, 71, a mother of one, is four times luckier for witnessing three popes on four occasions, including three historic papal visits to the Philippines.

Elizabeth Horca, 71 (photo by EFIGENIO CHRISTOPHER TOLEDO IV / The Filipino Connection)

Elizabeth Horca, 71 (photo by EFIGENIO CHRISTOPHER TOLEDO IV / The Filipino Connection)

In the Philippines, Horca was “blessed” to be present during the pastoral visits of Pope Paul VI in 1970, St. Pope John Paul II in 1995, and just recently, Pope Francis through the current pope’s visit at the University of Santo Tomas.

By chance, she also saw St. Pope John Paul II for the second time in Vatican, immediately after he recovered from an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. (Assassin Mehmet Ali Agca had shot Pope John Paul II four times; even if meted a life sentence, Agca was freed on Jan. 18, 2010 after being pardoned by former Italian president Carlo Ciampi.)

“I saw him after recovering from that assassination attempt,” Horca said in Filipino, recalling that visi at St. Peter’s Square. “It was the first time he got out of the hospital, and then he gave his blessing at his window at the Vatican.”

She said that many Filipinos have always been giving a warm welcome to all the popes who have visited here but the past papal visits are not as crowded like today when Francis breezed past Filipino faithful here.

Awaiting Francis’ setting foot at UST January 18 on a chair, Horca always feels the holiness of a pope. “Para kang kinikilabutan pero yung kanyang pagka-serene at pagka-calm makikita mo [You tingle when you see the Pope but you feel Francis’ serenity and clam when you see him],” Horca tells The Filipino Connection.

Together with millions of people welcoming a pope who visits here, Horca cannot afford to miss this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity even at her age.

Her close friend even cautioned her not to go to UST for the fourth papal visit to Asia’s oldest university. She’s 71, remember?

But with strong faith, who’s to stop her?

As she waited for Pope Francis to pass by, a fatigued Horca needed to be patient. Together with her daughter and husband, she came at UST at 4:30 a.m., entering UST’s A.H. Lacson gate. Other gates inside UST had seen lots of pushing and shoving just for people to enter.

Horca queued for three hours, entering the campus of the pontifical university. She was also with Someone else —the Holy Spirit— in this physical ordeal of waiting for Francis.

“I’ve been saying sa Holy Spirit ‘Saan mo ko dadalhin? Gusto ko na makita ang Pope [Where will You bring me? I want to see the Pope already].’”

Horca did feel Pope Francis’ presence when the popemobile passed by a park, the Quadricentennial Park, behind UST’s historic Main Building. Her daughter said Pope Francis was smiling and waving at the crowd.

She described Pope Francis as a pope who is “cleaning up the Church,” noting that even though the Roman Pontiff was said to have a more welcoming mind on how the Catholic Church handles issues affecting family members such as homosexuals and divorced, remarried and separated, Horca re-echoes Francis by saying “reach out to them”.

“[Pope Francis] said you reach out to them and by reaching out to them you can enlighten them,” Horca said. “Reaching out means ‘I love you.’”

After Francis had left the pontifical university’s grounds, Horca knew who is the current-day steward of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

“If you really belong to the Catholic Church,” Horca said, “you will really see him [Pope Francis] as a leader.”



Media outfits can publish, broadcast and post online this story, provided The Filipino Connection and the article’s author’s are properly acknowledged. Editorial mistakes are the publisher’s. Email: thefilipino.connection@gmail.com.