Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Rizal Park in Manila Jan 18 after people had waited for hours in the rain (right).


Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Rizal Park in Manila Jan 18 after people had waited for hours in the rain (right).

January 26, 2015

MANILA – New situations are opportunities to learn new things, even about the 78-year-old Pope Francis.

After two days of watching the pope tenaciously keep his appointments in the Philippines despite pouring rain Jan. 17-18, one lesson is that the papal wardrobe needs to be expanded to include rain gear.

A white umbrella – the usual Vatican response to a drizzle – is not adequate. And cancelling or moving an event indoors – the usual Vatican response to a heavy rain – is not acceptable to Pope Francis if his appointment is with thousands or even millions of predominantly poor people.

Then again, the clear yellow plastic poncho he donned over his chasuble for Mass Jan. 17 in Tacloban and again Jan. 18 for his ride in a converted jeepney popemobile Jan. 18 in Manila made him "one of the people," which they liked.

Bishop Mylo Vergara of Pasig, head of the media committee for the papal visit, said the wet and stormy weather – which included the approach of a category-two tropical storm in Tacloban – taught people how seriously Pope Francis takes his promises to the poor and suffering.


Because the pilots flying him to Tacloban, the area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, insisted he leave the area before 1 p.m., instead of the originally scheduled 5 p.m., he left Manila an hour early to get there. "He abbreviated everything, but he did all the events," the bishop said.

"The pope is a pope of surprises, but God also surprised him," Vergara said. The rain did not dampen the spirits of the people, and the pope did not let them down.

A smaller detail that the pope attended to is connected to his respect for popular piety, a respect born and nurtured in his native Argentina.

He shares the common people's tangible Marian devotion, which leads him to tenderly touch or kiss images of her, but also reflects a sense that Mary is "mama," as he said at one event, and one can grab on to her skirt when the going gets rough.

But he took care with an even smaller detail. After Communion at the Jan. 18 Mass in Manila, large tapers and tiny tea lights – whatever people brought with them – were lit as Pope Francis told the crowd: "Keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. Walk always as children of the light."


After a song, altar servers took the pope's taper from him, and he was handed his crozier for the final blessing. But the pope saw all the people still holding their candles, so he asked his master of ceremonies to give back his candle.

"With his crozier in one hand, he used the candle (in the other hand) to bless the community, symbolizing the fire, the light of God," said Manila's Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.