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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 21, 2011
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The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

On the footsteps of JP II

The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

It is not exactly on the same spot where the stage was 30 years ago, where the Holy Father spoke when he visited Bacolod City in an unprecedented event that saw one of the biggest crowds ever to assemble,  at what was then known as the reclaimed area of the city, or “reclamation” as the slang went.

But the John Paul II Tower stand a few steps away from the site of the stage, indeed, on the same spot where the crowds had partly massed to listen to the Papal words – a blazing, earthshaking declaration for social justice, for human rights, for the value of life.

A few days before that, Newsweek had already zeroed in on the province, bannering then Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich’s famous words about us being a “social volcano” ready to erupt.  Anger had seethed in the corridors of power of the Marcos administration at that time; how dare the Church shake the order of things, how subversive! But this was the Holy Father, whom the Marcos couple had courted, Imelda even offering to build a basilica for his visit, and so I’m sure there was gnashing of teeth and clenching of fists in the background, but the words of the Pope, and Cardinal Sin and Bishop Fortich boomed through the land.

Looking back now, this was one of the shining moments for the Church. Much as the government had wanted  it to cop-out, the Church  did not waver on her commitment to her flock, especially the ones who were marginalized. And so the Pope came, the 263rd successor of Peter, to stand in solidarity with her suffering people, to bring hope as well as courage .

It was a dangerous time. It was also exciting, and exhilarating. Has it been 30 years since?

Yesterday, a museum of life was unveiled at the JPII Tower, a memorial for rememberance and as a testament of gratitude as Fr. Felix Pasquin put it. Memorabiia, including photos and medals and souvenir items, are on display there. And the famous speech is there, for present and future generations to draw lessons and strength from, as the Papal word had done to our people three decades ago.

Interestingly, Bacolod Mayor Bing Leonardia, in his speech during the rites, recalled how, as then tourism officer for the province, he had been among the organizing crew of the visit. He brought with him his event IDs, his photo showing a head of thick hair and a carefree smile that did not at all hint of his political future.  The Mayor donated his IDs to the museum; hopefully, that will encourage others to bring in their memories and memorabilia of that visit as well.

Aside from the  souvenirs from the visit, there are other things in the museum that celebrate the Pope’s advocacies, especially on the primacy of life.

The second time the Pope came to the Philippines, in 1995, the young tourism officer of the province had become mayor; another 15 years, he would still be mayor and would  be one of those who’d cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the memorial to that visit.

As for the rest of us, it is enough to have been part of the multitudes who came to see, and listen to the Vicar of Christ; enough, indeed, to retrace  his footsteps that once brought him to our land and nearer sainthood come May, when he is beatified  by the Vatican.*

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