In PH, stage play peeks into Pope Francis’ life
ANGELES CITY, Philippines – Do you know Pope Francis enough like you do a well-loved, highly expected visitor?
Nine-year-old Marianne Santiago, teener Adeliene Marie Sampang, retired teacher Ludivina Malig and businessman Reghis Romero reckoned they should know much about the Supreme Pontiff ahead of his first visit to the Philippines on Jan. 15 to 19.
A musical, “I love Pope Francis,” has been helping them understand the life of Pope Francis -— described by San Fernando (Pampanga province) Archbishop Florentino Lavarias as a “very wonderful gift.”
Performed by a cast of 50 youth, professionals and businesspeople as well as five priests, the play saw its first run to people of all ages and backgrounds at the Holy Angel University (HAU) theater here on Saturday night.
“I learned about the Pope because I watched this play,” the bubbly Santiago said, clutching her teddy bear.
Sampang saw Francis as a “modern Pope.”
“He kept up with the times,” she noted, particularly amazed that like her, Pope Francis liked the song, “What Makes You Beautiful,” by the British boy band, One Direction.
The audience clapped wildly when the actor playing Pope Francis crossed the stage while singing the refrain of that hit.
Malig, 81, said knowing the Pope would be important for all Roman Catholics, like her, all over the world.
Businessman Romero liked what he has known of him. “He’s not aristocratic. He’s a very simple man, very humane,” said Romero, drawing these insights from the portrayals by Fr. Ricardo Luzung and Fr. Ted Valencia of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a seminarian, archbishop and cardinal in his native Argentina.
Running two hours in two acts and with 24 original songs, the musical happens in the fictional parish of San Felipe.
Here unfolds the stories of Bergoglio’s calling of priesthood during St. Matthew’s feast, how devotees kept him away from temptations while he was a seminarian, his acceptance of the vocation and his visits to the poor of Argentina. The play also tackled his planned resignation and his being summoned to the conclave to choose a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned for health reasons in February 2013.
One of the well-loved scenes was when an apparition of St. Peter appeared to Pope Francis, with the latter singing: “I am the rock, they say I am. But I am not the truth, You are. I’m just a pebble at your feet, your humble servant beneath your seat.”
The musical showed that Pope Francis’ acts of humility and his regular visits to the poor have inspired Catholics. Cast members illustrated these through a song, a part of which went: “The Pope is like the simple dish adobo and we’re the ripe and the very sweet mango. So perfect, what a match! Together, poor men, we will catch.”
The audience rose to their feet and joined the singing and dancing, chanting “La, la, la, la. Thank you, Papa!”
In various ways, Santiago, Sampang, Malig and Romero said the play inspired them to live Jesus Christ’s gospel of love that the Pope has been preaching, and to help make the Roman Catholic Church alive in faith.
Robert Tantingco, HAU vice president for external affairs, said the staging of the musical was timely.
“While Pope Francis has been turning the world upside down, we know very little of his personal life,” Tantingco told the audience.
Pampanga Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who has been helping in the preparations for the papal visit, said watching the musical has been one of the best ways to get ready for the event.
He urged everyone, especially the young, to watch the musical.
David said the Pope would not have the chance to squeeze the musical into his tight schedule, but members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) might watch it during a plenary after the papal visit.
Whether the Pope watches it or not, the musical is a gift of the Kapampangan to the Holy Father, according to Tantingco. HAU, together with the San Miguel Corp., is a major sponsor of the project.
“Only the Kapampangan can come up with a gift like this. We are known for our fidelity to the Church, having produced the first Filipino cardinal, first priest, first nun and first priest-governor,” Tantingco told the audience.
Pampanga was the first mission of the Augustinians outside of Manila in 1572.
Fr. Deo Galang, president of Teatru Kapampangan, which mounted the project, said the musical has been a labor of “joyful evangelization” that Pope Francis has been urging priests and laity to do.
It drew from the vast pool of talents organized by theater director and choreographer Andy Alviz from the groups, ArtiStaRita, and Ima at Arti for such church-themed zarzuela productions as “Tulauk,” “Ciniong” and “Perry.”
John Robertson, producer of “Miss Saigon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “Mama Mia” and other musicals, regarded “I Love Pope Francis” as Alviz’s “most cohesive in terms of storytelling.”
Randy del Rosario’s music was well-executed, Robertson said, adding that the cast performed with their heart.
Next play dates are Dec. 12 and Jan. 10, with showings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., at the Holy Angel University in Angeles City.
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