Pope’s trip to the Philippines followed closely by area Filipinos
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Cesar Conde felt emotion overcome him simply tracking on Facebook the days Pope Francis spent in Conde’s native country, the Philippines.
Conde, today a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, grew up poor in the Philippines and could deeply relate to the rush of excitement the people felt when the pope visited the heavily Catholic country Jan. 15-19.
“I think the faith of the Filipinos makes them really strong,” said Conde. “They never give up.”
He feels that Pope Francis was in some ways an answer to the prayers of the faithful in the Philippines, where exists — in addition to substantial poverty — significant government corruption.
Pope Francis’ presence “makes the Filipinos very grateful and honored to see the messenger of God,” said Conde.
Conde, who owns the Go Big Skill Toy Store in Shawnee and raises funds to help people in the Philippines, and his wife Luz — also from the Philippines — traveled there shortly after the pope’s visit with a group on a medical mission with the Philippine Medical Society of Greater Kansas City.
Joy and Jim Phelps, members of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, also tracked the pope’s visit, both before and during his time in the Philippines.
Joy grew up in the Philippines, and the couple often helps her family still living there.
They assisted, in fact, with a plane ticket that helped her sister get closer to the pope when he visited Leyte, Philippines.
Although Joy’s sister wasn’t able to get close because of the crowds, a younger sister got a closer look, and one of her brothers reported seeing him, but from afar. All were happy for the opportunity to be there, though.
“As a Catholic, for me, it’s an honor that Pope Francis is coming there,” said Joy, who is from Leyte.
Severe weather and rain marked much of the pope’s time in the Philippines, and it struck many that he was one of the people as he carried out his appointments in his rain gear.
The people of the Philippines are no strangers to the threat of severe weather throughout the year.
In Tacloban, the pope remembered the people affected by the Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Joy’s brother was a student at the university at the time the typhoon struck, and he narrowly missed being at his dorm when it flooded up to the second story.
Joy stays in touch with her family in the Philippines and worries about the corruption and poverty that continue to plague her homeland.
She feels, especially, for the children who live their lives in the streets.
“They’re hungry, and I feel really bad,” she said. “Whatever I had left over, I gave to the children who were really poor or whose parents didn’t care about them.”
So she was particularly touched by an article she read about Pope Francis’ interaction with a child who knew what life on the streets — and the suffering it brought — felt like.
“I would say that the biggest character trait of the Filipino people that the rest of the world could be inspired by from them is their resilience,” said Loretta Kline, who made the trip to capture the stories of the pope’s visit to the homeland of many of the people she serves.
Kline is managing editor in the communications department at Unbound in Kansas City, Kansas. Formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, Unbound strives to help improve life for those in poverty through sponsorships of children and elderly citizens in 21 countries. It has many sponsorships in the Philippines.
The Filipinos are extremely welcoming to any visitor, said Kline, but to receive a visit from the pope was a great honor.
Mercy and compassion were the theme of the papal visit, and Kline talked to many people who were looking for ways to incorporate those ideas into their own lives.
“When he said mercy and compassion, I told myself I will do that for other people,” said Efren Agustin, a father of four whose oldest son is sponsored through Unbound, reported Kline.
So much of Pope Francis’ mission resonates with Unbound’s mission, said Kline, and part of that is the idea that “I’m present here for you; I’m going to learn a little bit about your reality,” she said.
He talked about their resilience and also their family closeness.
“That’s what we do,” said Kline. “We try to strengthen families. We walk alongside, we accompany families in their daily lives. We offer them encouragement so they can make their own lives better.”
Many of the people she talked to used the same language to describe what it was like when the pope passed by or they witnessed a moment: Some used the actual word “goose bumps,” and others talked about the hairs on the back of their necks standing up.
And from Kansas, Cesar also used the word “goose bumps” to describe what it was like to watch via social media the pope’s visit to the Philippines.
“I think his presence gave encouragement and a fighting spirit for the Filipino people,” he said.