We Met the Holy Father Pope John Paul II
by Rudy Arizala
According to news report, Pope John Paul II died today 2 April 2005, at 9:37 p.m.
And this reminds me of the Papal six-day visit to Chile from 1 to 6 April 1987, when I was Philippine Ambassador to Chile. The Holy Pope visited Chile from north to south. His main team was "Love is more powerful." On that visit, Neneto and I had the rare privilege of meeting Pope John Paul II and held or kissed his hands.
Hereunder are my entries in my Notebook on 3 April 1987.
Early this morning the Holy Father was up already. He visited the Maipu Temple where he crowned the image of Virgen del Carmen de los Andes, the patron said of Chile. Then he went to Hogar de Cristo where he visited the sick / homeless and prayed at the tomb of Chilean priest founder of said Hogar de Cristo, Fr. Alberto Hurtado (canonized later as saint). Afterwards the Pope went to Universidad Catolica de Chile. Then back to the Nunciatura (his place of residence while in Chile) for lunch.
At 2:40 p.m., all foreign chiefs of Mission / Charge d´Affairs a.i. and their ladies were all present at the Nunciatura to greet the Pope. Attire required: Black dress for women with long sleeves and dark suit for men.
Neneto and I left our residence early arriving at the gate of the Nunciatura at 2:25 p.m. Some foreign ambassadors and their ladies arrived ahead of us. We were requested to wait outside. At 2:45 p.m. we were told to enter the Nunciatura premises. Once inside the living room of the Nunciatura, we were requested by the protocol officer to fall in line in pairs with our respective spouses. Another wait for about 15 minutes. The the Holy Father appeared preceded by Cardinal Cassaroli and the chief of protocol and the Pope´s security. The Nuncio (Msgr. Angelo Sodano who is now a Cardinal and Vatican Secretary of State), made a brief opening statement expressing the desire of the various chiefs of mission and their ladies accredited to Chile to greet the Holy Father. Then the Holy Father wearing a white attire and white cap on his head delivered a short speech thanking us for our presence and stating that his presence in Chile is a "pastoral visit" a mission of peace, reconciliation and respect for human dignity. He stressed that these are also the mission of diplomats -- peace, understanding and friendship among nations.
He gave as example the avoidance of war between Chile and Argentina and the signing of a peace treaty and friendship between the two neighboring sister nations in South America. He gave a general blessing to all of us and to our respective countries at the end of his brief remarks.
Then one-by-one, we approached the Pope according to protocol or seniority at the post and shook / kissed his hand greeting him. Neneto and I were seventh in the line starting from the Vice Dean of the diplomatic c orps -- the ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and his wife. When Neneto´s turn and mine came to greet the Holy Father, the Nuncio (Angelo Sodano) announced to the Pope: "The ambassador of the Philippines and his wife." I held the hand of the Holy Father and told him: "Your Holiness, Greetings from the Philippines" followed by Neneto. The Pope said to us in English "Thank you and God Bless you."
What was my feeling when I held the hand of the Pope? It was brief but it seemed to me eternity. Despite the crowd of people around, it seemed only the Pope and I were having a dialogue fact-to-face with a figure in his resplendent white attire with clear generous blue eyes, fatherly smile of humility, peace and human kindness. Neneto told me later on that she had the same sensation. As we stepped out of the room, a Msgr. gave me a commemorative Papal bronze medal of his visit to Chile. Neneto was given a rosary with white beads. We were also given souvenir pictures of the Pope with his signature. (Pope John Paul II).
Diplomats and their ladies after greeting the Pope waited in the sprawling garden of the Nunciatura for him to come out of the building. We saw the Pope walked from the Nunciatura up to the gate crossing the garden on foot to take the Papal mobile which will take him to CEPAL. A huge crowd has gathered outside the Nunciatura on the sidewalk across the street from the Nunciatura mostly young people waving small Vatican flags. Outside the Nunciatura, the Pope stopped for a brief moment before getting inside his vehicle; faced the crowd and greeted them by raising both his hands with a smile on his face. The crowd shouted several times: "Viva el Papa!" and waved flags, banners and placards.
At CEPAL the Pope delivered a speech on poverty, foreign debts and economic solidarity. Vice consul Catalino Dilem, Jr., and my eldest son Rodo were the ones who attended the ceremony at CEPAl. Authorities of this UN regional organization in Santiago, Chile invited only two persons from each foreign embassy to attend said ceremony due to space limitations.
Note: When I arrived in Santiago, Chile in 1981 to open a resident embassy and made my courtesy call on the Dean of the foreign diplomatic corps in Chile, Msgr. Angelo Sodano, his advice to me: "Mi querido Sr. Encargado de Negocios de Filipinas, in diplomacy one has to have plenty of patience". Probably, he gave that advice to me because he learned that I was sent to Chile by the Philippine government to establish a resident embassy after the "canceled visit" of Gen. Pinochet to the Philippines in 1980 which almost cause the break of diplomatic relations between the two countries. But that is another story.
At that time, little did I know that someday Msgr. Sodano would become the Vatican´s Secretary of State and now rumored to be one of the candidates to succeed the papacy. In diplomacy one can never tell what would happen in the future especially to people you meet.