We had this moving homily yesterday. Bishop Escaler was recounting the times he’s met the Pope-- apparently all bishops have to report to him in person every 5 years, so in the past 26 years he’s met with him 5 times. He considers it an honor that he’s had an hour and 15 minutes of personal face time with His Holiness. He recalled him as “a simple man, garbed in white, behind a simple desk… he always stood up when you entered the room, made sure you were comfortable, offered you a seat…” before they’d get down to brass tacks. The meetings went like this: first, he’d inquire as to the bishop’s own personal health and well-being, then the bishop gives his report, and then the Pope asks pretty much the same questions: How are the Muslims in your area? How is the peace and order situation? Have any members of the clergy been threatened? Are any of you in danger?
He also recounted a lunch the bishops were invited to while the Pope was visiting here, during which he remarked, “You Filipinos, you have all these problems, but you’re always happy, always singing.” He apparently loved hearing and saying mass here because of the vigorous and lively singing.
He talked about how JP II was very fond of the youth, how he was unpopular with a lot of Catholics for some controversial moves (like the Ecumenicism), how he was instrumental in the fall of communism, how he visited this Bulgarian who had shot him twice in his prison cell and forgave him. One of the coolest stories was how, by some twist of fate, Bishop Escaler was present when JP II was installed as Pope (in the Sistine Chapel? I forget) in 1978. He happened to be in Rome, a young priest, and he was invited to attend. By some mistake, he was seated IN THE FRONT ROW, along with all the Cardinals, who were glancing askance, wondering who this young Asian priest was and why he was in the front row.
Bishop Escaler broke into tears several times during the homily. He just couldn’t help himself. It surprised all of us. I wasn’t looking at him the first time it happened, my head was turned down but then I heard his voice break and waver, and I looked up and he had paused, with this look of helplessness that was heartbreaking. You could see he was trying not to cry but there was no way. You wished you could go over to the altar and console him. It really seemed to be a very personal loss for him. Several other people in church were also dabbing at their eyes.