MANILA, Philippines—With closed eyes and a somber face, a young boy quietly touched the marble surface of a historic altar Sunday, praying to blessed Pope John Paul II that his mother be healed from her illness.
The boy was confident that the beloved pontiff, who was beatified in an elaborate ceremony at the Vatican Sunday, would intercede in his prayers, especially that he was named after the pope.
Carrying the same name made him feel that he has a special link to Pope John Paul.
John Paul Bustillo said his parents named him after the pontiff because he was born exactly the moment the latter stepped out of the plane in Manila during his visit in January 1995 to celebrate World Youth Day.
In his running attire, the 16-year-old Bustillo waited in a long queue with his parents and siblings to pray and to touch the altar table, which was used by the pope when he heard Mass at the Papal Nuncio’s residence during his first pontifical visit to the Philippines in 1981.
The altar is very special to Philippine Catholic Church because it was also the same one used by Pope Paul VI, the first pope to set foot on Philippine soil, when he visited Manila in 1970.
The Archdiocese of Manila made the altar table available to the public for veneration following the fun run and Mass at the grounds of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, which was held to join the universal Church in celebrating the late pope’s passage to sainthood.
The archdiocese also displayed during the Mass a cream-colored chasuble, an outer liturgical garment worn by John Paul during his 1995 visit.
At the Quiapo church in Manila, crowds were thick as a piece of cloth from one of his habits was displayed by the altar to mark the day of his beatification.
The relic ended up in the care of the Quiapo church following a trip to the Vatican Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio made in 2006.
The piece of the habit was given to Ignacio, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, by Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole, of the Vatican Secretariat of State. The relic itself was part of the right sleeve of one of the pope’s last cassocks.
Quiapo church has been trying to distribute small pieces of the cloth to other churches, including Manila Cathedral, the Cathedral of Antipolo, and the San Sebastian Cathedral in Tarlac.
The piece in its possession has been set in a frame in the middle of a heart beside a photograph of the pope. The picture has been used to help healing in some of Manila’s hospitals, according to Ignacio.
“He was a pope who had very strong charisma and he understood the problems of the world and where the Church was needed,” Ignacio said.
In Bacolod City, a feeding program for poor children was held at the Pope John Paul II Tower.
Fr. Felix Pasquin, rector of the San Sebastian Cathedral, said it was significant that the beatification fell on Labor Day. He noted that the pope had championed the cause of the poor and the workers when he spoke before thousands of people in Bacolod when he came for a visit in 1981.
Bro. Jaazeal Jakosalem led the students of University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos in distributing slippers to the children gathered at the tower.
In his homily at the PICC, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo encouraged the faithful to pray for the intercession of the late pontiff.
“The meaning of his beatification is that we can now ask his prayer for our own needs, especially in living Christ’s life,” Pabillo said to the hundreds of fun run participants who stayed to hear the Mass.
He also emphasized that the beatification of the beloved pope was a reminder to all the faithful that sanctity was not beyond anyone’s reach. “It reminds us that sanctity is not of the past, but also the present… that we can follow his example how to be a saint and to live a holy life.”
Following the Mass, people formed a beeline under the scorching heat to have their brief moment with the altar and say their special prayers and intentions.
Parents brought their little children, many of whom were not even born when the pope died in April 2005, to touch and pray before the altar.
But many were teenagers, feeling the altar with their two hands and their eyes closed in prayer and taking a remembrance photo of the structure.
“We asked the pope to pray for our mama because she has a tumor in her ovary,” said Bustillo, who came with his entire family to join the friendly race initiated by the Manila Archdiocese to raise funds for Filipino delegates to the 26th World Youth Day in Spain. The pope initiated World Youth Day in 1985.
Accounts of miraculous healings have been attributed to the late pontiff. A miracle has already been formally credited to him. But before he can be proclaimed a saint, a second miracle must be attributed to him.
The altar, which has a marble surface and wooden base, was housed for more than two decades at the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila.
But the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin had it transferred to the National Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe in Makati City in 1996 when the residence of the Papal Nuncio underwent renovation.
The whole day Sunday, as thousands flocked to St. Peter’s Basilica to witness John Paul’s beatification, the altar was made available for public veneration at the shrine in Guadalupe as a secondary relic.
“But we will open it again to the public in the next following days if there is a demand for it,” said Fr. Eric Castro, the shrine’s vicar forane, in an interview with reporters on the sidelines of the fun run.
The fun run drew less than 5,000 participants, not as many as what the Manila Archdiocese was expecting, to raise money to send 13 delegates to World Youth Day in Madrid.
But Fr. Ramon Jadel Licuanan, head of the Archdiocese of Manila’s Commission on Youth, said the turnout was still surprising since less than a thousand had initially signed up for the event.
“We didn’t expect this because when we checked last Monday, the actual registrants were lower than 1,000 … but I was hopeful because this is dedicated to Pope John Paul, I know he will do something,” Licuanan told reporters.
“What he showed us this morning proved that he was here and he interceded for us,” he added.
Michelle Manoriña and Catherine Calaguas were among those who joined the fun run to celebrate the pope’s beatification.
Manoriña, who came from Davao to watch a concert the night before, went straight to the PICC grounds in the early hours of Sunday for the fun run with Calaguas, who has been joining marathons in the past.
“We want to join in the celebration of the pope’s beatification,” Manoriña said. Calaguas, who emerged among the winners in the friendly race and took home a cash prize, said she wanted to help send Filipino delegates to Spain. With a report from Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas