THE VOICE: Papal Visit: a showcase of discipline and excellence

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/19 January) — We deserve a pat on the back.  The five-day visit of Pope Francis was a showcase of many things we almost forgot we had: discipline and excellence.

A lot will be written about Yolanda survivors being the purpose of his visit.  A lot more are just probably waiting for the Pope to take off and the arsenal of criticisms would be released.  I would like to focus this article on how the event was organized and managed based on what I saw.

Oh, before I proceed: Kindly forgive my use of Papa Paco and Lolo Kiko in my earlier posts on Twitter and Facebook.  I personally feel that since he is the person whose rise to a high position did not correspondingly increase the size of his head, he’d be happy being called anything that endears him to his people.  He even just signed “Francis” on the Malacanang Guest Book.  But, taking the cue from the wisdom that “Familiarity breeds contempt,” I will refrain from using those terms of endearment.

Pope Francis came here both as Head of State and Head of the Catholic Church.  That way, two big institutions were making sure that everything was done in excellence.

Aside from being a spiritual journey, this Papal visit was also a cultural treat.  We saw choirs, orchestras, singers and dancers that are not your conventional fare.  Such talent.  That level of perfection we saw must have entailed discipline that anybody made of lesser stuff would have succumbed to.  Once again it affirmed my belief that it is really unfair to confine children and young people to just pop culture when there’s so much to explore.

Like most of the nation, I just viewed the events from cable TV, internet; and at some point, radio.  There was no let-up from Day 1.  Much as I also want to be physically present too, there was already joy in my heart knowing that millions of others had the wonderful privilege of a lifetime.  I share their joy.

So by no means this assessment of mine is in-depth.  Here are my observations:

The itinerary moved like clockwork.  In other words, on time.  Give or take a few minutes of delay or some hours of cutting the itinerary early due to bad weather.  Because the organizers made time their friend, there were allowances for surprises: things that were not part of the original plan.  Maybe they were prepared in any event the schedule would allow; and would easily understand if it won’t.

Pope Francis is a magnetic crowd drawer.  He is Manny Pacquiao-Beatles-State Leaders-Beauty Queens combined with how the crowds turned up in Metro Manila and Leyte.  We’re not talking of a one-day-only event here.  Truly he is not just a Rock Star; but a Rock.  Isn’t it a happy coincidence that he is the most recent in an unbroken line of successors since St. Peter, whom Jesus called the Rock on which He will build His Church?

were orderly. Save for a few scuffles to gain entrance to the Luneta, the crowds got what they wanted — a glimpse, or even just a fleeting camera shot of Pope Francis.  Of course, crowd control is now a science I’m sure the Vatican checklist has it somewhere its Philippine counterpart had to step up.  (When the word quadrant was brought up, I thought it sounded familiar: indeed horse stables are called cuadras).  While others felt such structures made them feel being herded up, quadrants are actually buffer zones in any event a stampede would occur thus minimizing injuries and even deaths.

Crowds also did not bring umbrellas even if it rained.  By not bringing umbrellas every one was being considerate that others will also have a chance to see Pope Francis.  Garbage bins were put up; but I still have to come across accounts on how all those litter was handled.


Cellphone Signals were jammed within a certain vicinity wherever the Pope is present.  Since this was a state visit, nothing in the itinerary would ever skip, again, the checklist of the Vatican Police or the Swiss Guard.  Whatever howls of protest were dissipated into whines upon the realization of any bombing attempt triggered through cellphone signals.  Nothing is left to chance.  As it is said, we’d rather err on the side of caution.

Police Officers who were interviewed sort of had this soothing, assuring voices that sounded like they were in full control of the situation.  It was a good sign that no military officer was interviewed on civilian security matters.  That must also be in the organizer’s guidelines on who should be interviewed.

Police lining the routes were also not talking selfies.  They looked alert.  One selfie and probably they’d say goodbye to their jobs.

The Security Escorts radiated the aura that they meant business even if their guns did not show.  Their movements were snappy and they wore poker faces.  They did not even have to wear shades to make themselves invisible.  (I just thought that probably the best way to blend oneself in a crowd is not to smile too much — or better yet, not smile at all).  Kitang Pinoy mahilig man mag tingsi pirmi ta maalaan nga wa nagtrabaho (We Filipinos love to grin which could sometimes be mistaken for not working).

Venues were decorated in dignified simplicity, the most striking of all was the amakan walling of the Tacloban structure where Mass was held.  Nothing fancy.  Plain and simple.  Still beautiful.  Still awesome.

Green Fences.  So Roxas Boulevard and all the routes were suddenly clean.  Vendors and street people disappeared from sight.  Hmm…isn’t it very Filipino that we usually tidy up only when we know visitors are coming…?  Should one take it against the Catholic Church to be able to encourage government to put things in order?  Okay there were volunteers; but imagine how it could have been if it was just left as it was just to show the Pope how unkempt we are.  Virtual tongues would still rattle; and whether the Pope sees the clutter or not, I’m sure he already has an idea of the unseen along with the seen.

Pope Mobile.  No not the white ones but that little blue one.  Fortuner? No. Innova? No.  MonteroSport? No.  Volkswagen Touran.  Hmm.  Never heard of Touran but Volkswagen, yes.  People’s Car.  Befitting of a People’s Pope.  According to Yahoo, the more expensive, diesel-fed model was used because it “has this air of understated elegance and stature, not flashy. Unlike cheaper ones that look flashy with its too many bells and whistles.”  So — I hope it means that price does not necessarily have a direct relationship to being rich or being poor.  That should be comforting to the clergy who are being exhorted not to live expensive lifestyles and brandish fancy gadgets.

Tarpaulins.  Oh, those nasty tarpaulins.  They were visibly NOT there!  Having only the flags of the Philippines and the Vatican lining up the route gave a boost to the nationalistic spirit.  To think that it took a Vatican Head of State to let the Philippine Government reclaim public space.  Having seen comparisons of surroundings that are maaliwalas (no English word could get what I want to illustrate), would government be conscientious enough now to let it stay that way?  Finally get rid of tarpaulin invasions?

Translator / Interpreter: I conversed rudimentary Spanish with my maternal grandmother as a child and lost much of it in college while joining the herd behavior to have it abolished. Then many UN posts preferred proficiency in another UN official language aside from English; and Spanish is one.  Realizing how beautifully Pope Francis crafted his words with the way the translator interpreted it, I regretted not having mastered the language.  Nonetheless, purists wanted it translated to the dialect — but the language of love needs no translation.

Souvenir items: Reminds me of how Jesus got mad at vendors for making the temple the venue for making money.  Complaints of slow sales of souvenir items abound. But then again, sinabihan ba sila ng organizers na mag benta? (Did the organizers tell them to cash in on the event?)  Even a big TV network was not spared from being admonished that it was sending the wrong message on its souvenir shirts it had to be pulled out from the market just in time.

How was all it possible?

1.  Rules make life easy for every one.  One does not have to think much so that thought processes would be reserved from more productive endeavors and still be in order.  Specific and transparent instructions should state desired results.  Instructions that are just mere instructions are intimidating, thus making it hard to follow.

For example: “Do not bring umbrellas because it will obstruct the view of others”.  Compare that with  just “Do Not Bring Umbrellas”.

Or “Use Route A so that Route B will not congest” with just “Use Route A”.

Or “Flush the Toilet so that it will not smell” with just “Flush the Toilet.”

Something like that.

From the day it was announced that Pope Francis will visit in January 2015, television had public service announcements telling people what to do: schedules, itineraries, routes, quadrants, portalets, health stations, what to bring, what will be inspected.  Not to mention other forms of mainstream media and social media aside from TV.

In other words, How To’s are what the Filipino Nation so desperately needs in these disastrous times.  As Pope Francis himself said, “Reality is Superior to Ideas”.  How To’s are reality.  Development jargon likes technicalese like mechanisms. Duh.  Or in the language of disaster response, “Don’t debate: Evacuate!”  Oh, how we love to assert our ideas even if floodwaters are already up to our necks so to speak. Or discuss the best education curriculum no end and before long children with barren minds have already reached adulthood who will take their turn in making decisions. Or whether education is ever the priority, if at all.

2.  Organization/Network/Prayer.  The structure of the Catholic Church goes down to the smallest unit called the Basic Eclessial Community (BECs) thus information dissemination is assured.  A prayer for the Pope’s visit was recited before the final blessing of each mass.  Imagine how many positive thoughts radiate all throughout the country every time a prayer is said all this time.


This Papal Visit is the benchmark of how events should be organized.

It should apply to Philippine Government affairs too.

Tarpaulins, epals, politicians, showbiz personalities, mantener (sloppy work) — one day magsawa din tayo lahat nyan (we’d just have enough of it).  With five days of opportunity to do good and be excellent,  kaya naman pala (it’s in fact doable).  If you don’t like it, feel free to either apply what’s applicable or start from scratch.

There’s no denying that it’s only a matter of time that we will be back to our merry ways of taking pleasure in defying law and order.  I just hope that time would be longer than sooner.  When that time comes maybe we would need another visit from the Pope to rekindle our collective spirit.  And feel peaceful again.

There is peace in order.

MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Aveen Acuña-Gulo posts herself on Facebook as a Monumental Operations Manager (MOM).  She is a Bukidnon-born Cebuano mother of three Maguindanao-Ilonggo-Cotabateño children; who will always be a child at heart even if she is a hundred years old. She wrote a column “The Voice” for the Mindanao Cross from 1991-2006. She likes to challenge stereotypes.  “Don’t worry about my opinions,” she says.  “It won’t make a dent to the conventional.”