When His Holiness Pope Francis found out what “Lolo Kiko” meant, he insisted that Pinoys continue calling him Lolo Kiko.
And after five days of an eventful Papal visit, it wasn’t hard to refer to him like a familiar and endeared grandfather.
Day One: Tireless
When the Pope arrived on January 15, thousands of people lined the streets to welcome him and millions of people religiously followed every media coverage—from the tarmac of Villamor Air Base to the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila where he will be staying, the streets were filled with faithfuls who waited for hours just for a glimpse of the Holy Father.
From the almost five-hour flight from Sri Lanka, he swiftly disembarked the plane, and stood with President Noynoy Aquino for the national anthems and welcomed a long line of people waiting for him.
Aboard his popemobile, he stood and smiled and waved to everyone one the streets all the way to his simple quarters in the Nunciature. His stamina was remarkable. Here is a 78-year-old pontiff, missing a lung and just recovering from a five-hour plane ride, and yet his face showed no sign of weariness or fatigue.
Lolo Kiko is tireless.
Day Two: Loving
On his first morning in Manila on January 16th, he made his way to the Malacanang Palace for a welcome ceremony and a joint statement with the state leader.
Battling the harsh Philippine sun that morning, Lolo Kiko stood with the President for the national anthem upon arrival. He then again welcomed a long line of cabinet members and Malacanang staff who eagerly waited for his historic arrival. After walking a long pathway towards the Palace, he climbed a set of stairs—as swift as ever—to the Music Room.
He signed the Palace’s guest book and wrote:
“On the President and people of this beloved land of the Philippines, I ask Almighty God’s abundant blessings of wisdom, discernment, prosperity and peace.
The President and Lolo Kiko exchanged gifts. From President Noy, a statue of the Virgin Mary the Undoer of Knots—made from the wood of a fallen Acacia tree in the Palace when Typhoon ‘Glenda’ struck—and the special commemorative Papal visit coins. From Lolo Kiko, a vintage Vatican City Atlas.
The two then took turns in sharing a joint speech in front of cabinet members, the media, and a few clergymen inside the Palace.
Lolo Kiko did not mince words and made sure he was straight to the point.
“It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good… Thus will they be able to marshall the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace,” he said in his speech.
President Aquino’s speech received mixed reviews, with some taking offense with some of his statements, like when he said, “there was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day.”
After the welcoming ceremonies and speeches in Malacanang, Lolo Kiko—still exuberant and smiling—went to the Manila Cathedral to lead the Holy Mass.
Even his Homily was straightforward.
For the clerics, he said, “As ambassadors for Christ, we, bishops, priests and religious, ought to be the first to welcome his reconciling grace into our hearts.”
For the Catholic community, he said, “it also calls Christian communities to create “circles of integrity”, networks of solidarity which can expand to embrace and transform society by their prophetic witness.”
After the High Mass, he made an unpublicized visit to Tulay ng Kabataan (TNK), an institution dedicated to help street children. The kids inside TNK were given the freedom to get close to Lolo Kiko—hugs and blessings and prayers were abundant. In the photos released by Vatican news agencies, Lolo Kiko looks refreshed—smiling that infectious smile—even more recharged for the afternoon’s events.
By 5:30 PM, he was at the Mall of Asia Arena for the ‘Encounter with Families’ event.
Upon entering the arena holding over 18,000 people, Lolo Kiko’s face lit up—as if he saw his beloved family throwing him a surprise party.
The first thing Lolo Kiko did upon entering the arena was make a beeline for the elderly and the sick waiting for him in a specific area of the venue. He blessed and prayed for sick children and the elderly, sharing casual chit-chats in between.
On stage, Lolo Kiko listened to the testimonies of three families—even learning sign language in the process.
“It is in the family that we first learn how to pray. There we come to know God, to grow into men and women of faith, to see ourselves as members of God’s greater family, the Church,” he said in his speech.
“In the family we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish. We learn to move beyond our own needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them. That is why it is so important to pray as a family!”
He emphasized the need for families to stay together—especially in trying times of calamities and economic instability.
“Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself,” he reminded everyone. “Do not hide your faith, do not hide Jesus, but carry him into the world and offer the witness of your family life!”
Known for being close to the poor and the afflicted, his gestures weren’t new, but to see him in action is still a surprise. No matter how many articles we read about his kindness, mercy, and compassion, experiencing it is an entirely different story.
Lolo Kiko is loving.
Day Three: Compassionate
His staff shared during the media briefing that no storm or typhoon will keep His Holiness from flying to the Haiyan-hit area in Leyte.
Tropical storm ‘Mekkhala’ or local name ‘Amang’—aptly meaning ‘Father’ in English—was closing in on Visayas, so in the morning of January 17, Lolo Kiko flew to Tacloban City earlier than planned.
Upon landing at the Tacloban Airport, Lolo Kiko endured rains and winds. During his Holy Mass, he wore a yellow plastic raincoat just like the thousands of Visayans waiting for him and his Homily.
“When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you—a little bit late, but I’m here,” Lolo Kiko said in Spanish. Msgr. Mark Miles helped to translate his mass in English.
“I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord. And he never lets us down,” Lolo Kiko said.
“So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you… Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart… I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ… He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced.”
The yellow raincoat may have kept their bodies dry, but their eyes were laden with tears at the Pope’s words of love and encouragement.
Lolo Kiko shared lunch with several survivors of Supertyphoon ‘Haiyan’ (‘Yolanda’). In a press briefing, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said that hearing the stories of the survivors and seeing them in person has “rendered the Pope speechless.”
‘Amang’ was insistent and gathering strength as it moves closer to Tacloban, so Lolo Kiko’s trip was cut short by about four hours.
After blessing the Pope Francis Center for the Poor and greeting the Palo Archbishop a happy birthday, the Pope – with a heavy heart – had to leave.
“I am sad about this, truly saddened,” he said to the people gathered with him inside the Palo Cathedral.
Just as the full brunt of ‘Amang’ hit Leyte, the Papal plane – Shepherd One – landed safely at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
In Leyte, a VIP plane carrying several cabinet members had a mishap due to ‘Amang’ when it lost control and skidded off the Tacloban Airport runaway before take-off. No one was reported injured in the incident.
Also in Tacloban, ‘Amang’ claimed the life of a Catholic Relief Services volunteer. Kristel Mae Pasadas, 27, lost her life when the scaffolding built for the papal visit collapsed due to strong winds.
In Manila, Pope Francis and Archbishop Tagle met Kristel’s father, Paulino Pasadas, to express their condolences and gratitude for Kristel’s service.
Lolo Kiko is compassionate.
Day Four: Understands
Lolo Kiko has always been fond of young people – always citing their importance in the Catholic Church.
On Sunday, January 18, he visited the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas for an ‘Encounter with the Youth.’
Lolo Kiko, as usual, prepared a speech for the event, but after hearing the testimonials of former street children – particularly the tear-laden testimony of 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar – he decided to go off the cuff.
“I am sorry I have not read the prepared remarks but reality is superior to ideas… And the reality you have is superior to the paper I have in front of me,” he explained.
In her testimony, Glyzelle asked the Leader of the Catholic Church why blameless children experience horrors like prostitution and poverty.
“Why does God allow this to happen?” she asked Pope Francis in Filipino.
Like a loving and beloved grandfather, Lolo Kiko gathered Glyzelle in his arms.
“She is the only who has put a question for which there is no answer. And she wasn’t able to express it in words but rather in tears,” he said.
Lolo Kiko also asked the crowd why there’s such a small amount of women present, and then shared his thoughts on women.
“But women are capable of seeing things in a different angle from us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions that we, men, are not able to understand.”
“When the heart is able to ask itself and cry, then we can understand something,” Pope Francis said. “[The world] has a great lack of capacity of knowing how to cry.”
“It is only when Christ is able to cry that he understood what is going on in our lives… Certain realities in life are seen through eyes cleansed with tears.”
Lolo Kiko understands the importance of being real with your emotions.
On Sunday afternoon, he led his concluding event at the Rizal Park where a record-breaking six million people attended the Holy Mass.
Millions of faithfuls — again — endured the inclement weather to be with Lolo Kiko for his last mass in the country.
In his homily, Lolo Kiko emphasized the importance of keeping the faith in times of difficulties, showing genuine mercy and compassion to children and the poor, and reminding everyone that we are all God’s children.
“In these days, throughout my visit, I have listened to you sing the song: ‘We are all God’s children.’ That is what the Santo Niño tells us. He reminds us of our deepest identity. All of us are God’s children, members of God’s family,” Lolo Kiko said.
Lolo Kiko understands we have doubts and he is reminding us to stay true to our ‘deepest identity’ in Christ.
Day Five: Missed
Like a beloved grandpa ready to go back home after a much awaited visit, many Filipinos didn’t want him to leave.
At around 10:50 AM on Monday, January 19, Lolo Kiko boarded Shepherd One and left for the Vatican.
The streets were still full of people waving goodbye. On his face, that same tireless and infectious smile.
Lolo Kiko will be missed.