Saturday, April 26, 2014
SMALL IS GOOD...OR HOW I GOT TO HOLD A SAINT'S HAND...TWICE
When the late Father Tony Perez, our Minor Seminary Rector, told us in the fall of 1980 that the Pope was coming to Guam in February, besides many other things, I already "figured" out that I shouldn't expect to be able to get near him or touch him.
I reasoned that, as a college-level seminarian, I'd be put way in the back somewhere while dignitaries from Oceania, Asia and the U.S. would take the prime spots, followed by the local clergy and so on.
As it turned out, the seminarians, dressed in cassocks and surplices, were able to sit in the 3rd or 4th pews in the nave of the Cathedral on the evening the Pope arrived, to speak to the clergy, religious and lay leaders. Admission was by invitation only. The Cathedral was standing room only, but we were up front.
More than that, I was seated towards the outer edge of my row. The other end of that pew was by the central aisle, where the Pope would walk down. So I cancelled all thought of ever touching him. Except that, at some point, the Pope came down to us, touched everyone in the front row that you see in the photo, then turned to my side of the pews, the side facing the Cathedral walls.
That's how I was able to stand on the pew, reach over heads and touch his hand. Every so briefly, but touch it I did.
You can see me standing on the pew in the pic above, in cassock and surplice, my left hand touching the back of my head or my neck. I was facing the direction the Pope was moving.
The next day, the Pope said Mass in the middle of the street in Agaña. I knew better than to expect to compete with a larger crowd this time. And, sure enough, I wasn't able to get anywhere near the Pope. But I was already happy I touched his hand the night before.
Then, after the Mass, I had to drive some visiting clergy to the airport. But I wasn't expecting to be told, once I got to the airport, that we were to park, get down and wait in line right on the tarmac. In line for what? After a half-hour wait, I found out what. In comes the papal limousine onto the tarmac, where we had been waiting, standing in a long line which you can see in the pic above.
Believe it or not, the Pope got out of his limo and greeted every single one in that long line you see above. Well, he was younger then and he was a robust, healthy man. So I got to hold his hand again. This time it was one-on-one. He was right in front of me and he looked straight into my eyes. I managed to stifle a "How ya doin', Your Holiness?" and quietly kissed his ring and genuflected.
Many years later, as Capuchin Superior of Guam and Hawaii, I had to attend an international meeting of Capuchins in Rome in the year 2000. Part of the agenda was a private audience with the Pope. Just him and 200 friars. Friars were anxious to get good seats in a fancy hall in the papal chambers. I purposely stayed in the back of the room, with empty chairs on both sides of me so I could stretch out. A friar asked me, "Aren't you excited?" I said, "You see this hand? Touched him on Guam in 1981....twice."
I also got to touch Pope Paul VI in 1972. But that story's for later.
Being from a small island like Guam has its advantages.
We may still have to compete with 1 or 2 thousand people in some event, like a papal visit. But not ten or a hundred thousand or more.
And if they ever ask you to be a driver....say "yes."