Touched by John Paul the Great

fr royYEAR 2014 is fast becoming a very special year for me. There actually are many reasons for this, and all of them leave me profoundly thankful and nervous. But among the reasons is the most gratifying fact that two men, very close to my heart, will be raised to the altar in this Year of the Laity.

One is Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, successor of Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, who will be beatified in Madrid on September 27. He ordained me to the diaconate in Rome on January 28, 1991. It was his first time to ordain candidates to the priesthood, since he was just consecrated bishop a few weeks earlier that year.
The other is Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will be canonized saint on April 27. By an extreme stroke of luck and, I believe, a pure bolt of grace, I was chosen as one of those to be ordained priest by him in Rome that year on May 26, Trinity Sunday.

The moment I was told I would be ordained by Pope John Paul II, I literally froze in disbelief. A spontaneous and strong flow of prayers came a little later. I stammered in thanking God for the great gift, then I started to trace what brought me to that life-changing event.

I don’t think I was a particularly religious person when I was a kid. All I had in mind was to play and be naughty, just like anybody else among my friends. But my mother saw to it that I prayed the rosary with her and some of my siblings who happened to be with her at the moment.

It was she who instilled in me, among many other things, love and veneration for the Pope. My lola and the teachers in grade school, mostly nuns, did the same. And I just developed that love to the point that whenever I saw a picture of Pope John XXIII, the Pope at that time, I felt good and holy and somehow urged to behave.
The nuns in school encouraged me to enter the seminary, but when I brought the idea to my father, he said, no way. And so I forgot about priesthood and pursued what everybody else was pursuing. At that time, all I wanted was to become rich and all those thingamajigs.

But I met Opus Dei while studying in college in Manila. And my life changed, made a sharp turn. Well, that’s now history.

My love and fascination for the Pope grew even more. When Pope Paul VI visited Manila, I happened to stay just a few houses from where the Nunciature, where he stayed, was.

I remember standing the whole day right in front of the Nunciature together with the crowd just to have a glimpse of him. And when I saw him, it was as if I was floating on air with joy. Prayer when infused with joy became effortless.

Then entered Pope John Paul II in 1978. At that time, I was already a professional man, working in some office, but also into deep philosophical and theological studies. It was he who sort of challenged me to take my Christian formation more seriously.

I found him irresistibly stimulating and engaging. I was sure his presence, his words, even his mannerisms were all so soaked with a certain charism that I just found myself insatiably devouring his writings and any piece of news about him. I knew I was learning a lot and growing interiorly.

When he visited Manila in 1981, I volunteered to be part of a press team. That enabled me to see him at close range. It was in Baclaran church, his first stop after arriving at the Manila airport, when I had the first chance almost to touch him if not for the security who stopped me at the last split second.

Then I was asked to go to Rome for ecclesiastical studies. I actually did not seek the priesthood. I simply was called to it, and I just said, yes, after a little reflection.

I still vividly remember every moment of that day of my ordination. What struck me most was that he started it very tired. He just came in from a trip and he already had serious health conditions. But as the event went on, I noticed he became very alive. At the end, he talked to me as if he knew me all along.

I have no doubt he is truly a saint!

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