I just love this photo I saw at rollingstones.com by Stefano Spaziani. A seated Pope Francis slouched in prayer or contemplation, in a dimly lit room inside the Vatican. Quite a dramatic shot. We don't usually see him like this in photos that we find on the web. Especially those taken a few days ago when he was here in the Philippines. We had been seeing a cheerful Pope with a charming smile that can light up a dreary room, or bring the warmth of sunshine in a stormy day in Tacloban.
Well at least 6 or 7 million Filipinos experienced the power of his presence. I, however, only witnessed everything through an old TV screen. Being a not-so-devout Catholic I was not moved to go out there and see him in person. But I did watch him, in avid curiosity, from the moment he stepped out of the door of the Sri Lankan plane, to the time he looked back and waved to the Filipinos for the last time before entering the plane that brought him back to Rome. There goes Saint Peter's successor, I thought. The 265th successor, as a matter of fact.
Speaking of facts, the Philippines rank 3rd on having the most Catholics (Brazil 1st, Mexico 2nd). It is then no surprise that his Sunday Mass in Luneta can conjure a crowd exceeding that of an EDSA Revolution. We have not seen a Pinoy multitude of this size for years, you know, and I feel that an event like this is something that we actually needed. Because I couldn't think of any other leader living today who by his example and words can inspire hope in a country that has long been battered by disasters both natural and man-made. Corruption, injustice and apathy - these are the silent man-made disasters with an aftermath that can last for years and years. Now I could only pray that the Pontiff's message of compassion has the same staying power in the hearts of all Filipinos.
"Pray for me", we often hear this simple request from him. I seem to hear him saying so in my head with an Italian accent, as I look at the photo above. We usually ask friends and loved ones to pray for us when we're troubled or in need of something that only God can bestow. Perhaps the Pontiff too is in need of something. Of course he is. After all he is one of us - human, and to be the head of the largest and one of the oldest religious institutions certainly is no easy task. Imagine the torment of not knowing what to say to a child who asked why God allows them to suffer. Though not knowing the answer, he shares their pain. Imagine the weight he carries on his shoulders and in his heart. So, yes I will indeed pray for this man.