God ‘Surprised’ Pope Francis in the Philippines, Says Bishop

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Bishop Mylo Vergara of Pasig expressed deep gratitude and joy for Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines, noting that Francis is a man of surprises, but that he, too, was surprised.

At a press conference held at the Villamor Air Base after Pope Francis’ departure from the Philippines, the bishop said that “the Pope is a pope of surprises, but God also surprised him.”

The bishop praised the Pope’s “spontaneity” and said that he came into the midst of the Filipinos as “one of us.”

“That was his intention, even before coming here. He wanted to be one with us in mercy and compassion,” said the prelate, referring to the theme of Francis’ visit.

“There were many surprises,” the bishop said. “I’m sure you have witnessed it. You have witnessed how he did not read the prepared homilies—one surprise—his homily from the heart, and I think that’s something that moved us, all of us in his speeches,” he said.

One such moment was the Pope’s meeting with young people at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where he set aside his prepared text and delivered a very intense and emotional 40-minute improvised speech to the 70,000 attendees. There he urged his listeners not to just be “museums,” storing up information, but “wise people,” understanding what is important in life and learning to love and take pity on others.

During that encounter, four young people addressed the Pope. One, a 12-year-old girl named Glyzelle Palomar, spoke of the experience of abandoned children who wind up in drugs and prostitution. She asked the Pope why God allows this to happen, before bursting into tears. The Pope responded, “Today she asked the only question that has no answer, and her words weren’t enough, she needed to say it with tears.”

The Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, also sized up the visit, saying he was “overwhelmed right now with thanksgiving and gratitude to God” and highlighting the new record set by the papal Mass at Rizal Park, attended by between 6 and 7 million people.

“All of us are deeply grateful to God, and we also thank the authorities and the Church and the many sectors of society” that made ​​Francis’ trip possible, he said.

The Cardinal compared Francis’ visit to that of Saint John Paul II in 1995, and said that, in the Philippines, a papal visit “occurs every 20 years, and you can see how the people are still affected.”

“I am sure that the visit of Pope Francis will also have that effect,” he said. “And now we need to go deeper. Take some time to reflect on this spiritual message.”

According to the cardinal, the Pope “has challenged” the bishops, clergy, and laity, and now they need to act on everything he shared with them.

Tagle also underscored how important popular religiosity and the faith of the simple are for the Pope. “He said that it is the simple faith that makes people survive the changes in society,” Tagle said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.