The electrifying impact of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the Philippines is such that it will never be forgotten, especially, with the attestation of the Vatican’s spokesperson that it is the biggest event among the papal visits to any country. The euphoric feeling of the Filipinos borders on justifiable fanaticism. The warm reception accorded the shepherd of the Catholic Church defied the onslaught of nature when he said the Mass in Tacloban which was punctuated with incessant rain and strong wind, and in Manila which was heavily drenched with the steady bone-drenching downpour.
The bad weather did not melt the devotion of the Filipinos as they waited even for the fleeting moment to have a glance of the pope along the routes of his entourage. Wheelchaired PWDs patiently waited under the shield of thin plastic sheets. Mothers risked the health and safety of their children. And, elderlies did not utter any complaint as they waited for the pope with their wobbling legs.
For once, the rich and the poor trekked side by side, to Luneta for the concluding Mass, under the rain. The selfie addicts heeded the call not to click their camera during the Mass. The six million pilgrims gave resonating replies as one solid flock, to whatever call was made by the moderator of the occasion. For the first time, perhaps, hosts were passed on by pilgrims from the hand of the priests during the Communion. Putting to action the call of the pope for compassion, some pilgrims gave their raincoat to mothers and children.
The concluding Mass became some sort of a commitment ceremony during which Archbishop Tagle, speaking for the Filipinos, made a promise to go with him to the wherever his mission will bring him. And, in response, the pope asked the Filipinos to carry on the light of faith and devotion wherever they may go.
The pope played his role as Christ’s spokesperson during his visit, with a resounding success. He was a picture of humility since the first day of his arrival. And, his request that ceremonies do away with pomposity, was followed to the last letter. No colorful streamers from government officials and politicians that scream greetings dotted his routes. Most, importantly, the Filipinos behaved appropriately.
On January 18, the day the pope was scheduled to say Mass at Luneta in the afternoon, a stampede happened just before five in the morning. The Maria Orosa entrance to Luneta was breached by impatient pilgrims. The Maria Orosa area has two gates for the pilgrims and provided with scanning machines. With the breach that practically toppled heavy concrete barricades, a stampede ensued resulting to the injury of about ten pilgrims with one elderly brought to the hospital, rendering the scanning machines useless.
According to the interviewed pilgrims who were part of the stampeding crowd, they were outside the park since the day before so that they could secure a vantage area in front of the stage or beside the path intended for the pope. They came from the far provinces hoping that as soon as they have arrived at Luneta, they could settle down at a chosen area and make use of the park’s toilet facilities. The opportunities were denied to them because, particularly at the Maria Orosa entrance, only one entrance was opened instead of the two, resulting unfortunately to the stampede.
In the above instance, while the enthusiasm of the pilgrims can be blamed, observable is the oversight of the operating committee in taking into consideration the pent up emotion of the pilgrims that could burst into impatience, resulting to the stampede which, indeed happened.
The people behind the event should have used the chaotic handling of the Cebu Pacific Air passengers at the airport terminal 3 as basis in coming up with a system in handling the papal visit crowd. They should have taken note that the reason of the chaos at the airport is the amassing of the passengers at the gate before checking them in close to departure time by one or two check-in clerks, instead of a full complement of personnel.
Going back to the Luneta stampede, it could have been avoided if the two gates were opened instead of just one. Or better, they should have opened said gates much much earlier to give time for an orderly inflow of pilgrims.
In the same way, the chaos at the airport terminal 3 could have been avoided if Cebu Pacific Air opens its check in counters much much earlier if they see the forming of a long queue outside the terminal….and with a full complement of check-in personnel, to ensure that all passengers with confirmed tickets are checked in on time. Cebu Pacific Air, after operating for so many years is supposed to have a clear profile of their clientele.
Common sense still, is an important ingredient in concocting a systematic handling of a crowd.