'Miracles' in 1995 visit recalled
- Evelyn Macairan () - May 1, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With Pope John Paul II’s beatification today, an organizer of his second visit to the Philippines in 1995 recalled the “miracles” they experienced during the pontiff’s stay in the country.

On Jan. 14, 1995, two days before Pope John Paul II was scheduled to leave the Philippines, the organizers were faced with a problem: there was no plane that would bring him to Papua New Guinea, his next destination.

Jimmie Policarpio, who headed the arrival and departure committee for John Paul II’s visit, related that they were able to talk to Philippine Airlines (PAL) president Lucio Tan and his brother Harry, the airline implementing officer, about their predicament.

He explained to Tan that the pontiff arrived in the country on board an Alitalia plane but that it had left and it was the Philippine government’s responsibility to bring the pope to his next destination.

Policarpio said Tan immediately said, “No problem. An Airbus would bring him to Papua New Guinea.”

But there were other complications - the pope must have his own private quarters, plus they had to take into consideration the other cardinals, archbishops and members of the papal entourage.

Again, the PAL owner offered the solution. He said he would have the entire business class of the Airbus converted into the pope’s room, while half of the economy class would be turned into business class. The rest of the entourage, on the other hand, would be accommodated at the back of the plane.

Policarpio said Tan only asked for one thing in return: If it was possible for him to be inside the plane when the pope arrived, although he would not join them on the trip.

Policarpio added that PAL set aside one plane for the exclusive use of the pope and they worked on renovations overnight and finished these on time.

Apart from this miracle, Policarpio said there was also a synergy of volunteerism from Catholic devotees, prominent businessmen included, during the pope’s visit, which coincided with the 10th World Youth Day (WYD) celebration.

Policarpio also could not forget a particular meeting with Fred Elizalde, owner of radio station dzRH, a few days before the event.

At that time, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) had not yet installed electricity at the Quirino Grandstand.

Policarpio recalled making a visit to the late STAR columnist Louie Beltran, who was also then an anchor of dzRH.

“It was at this time when Fred Elizalde walked in. He asked, ‘Are you ready for the papal visit?’ I told him that we needed P280,000 to give to Meralco as downpayment,” Policarpio said.

Elizalde left and five minutes later, his secretary came and handed Policarpio a P280,000 check.

ShoeMart and businessman Bert Lina also provided portable toilets at the Quirino Grandstand while food chains Jollibee and McDonald’s gave away hamburgers to the crowd at the WYD event.

The International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) donated 50 refrigerated container vans that were converted into holding areas for the pope and other religious leaders.

Even the weather cooperated during the six-day visit of the pope. It did not rain, and not a single criminal incident was reported during this time.

Policarpio admitted crying upon seeing the pontiff up close.

“It was a different experience. They were tears of joy. He had a different aura, it was as if you were with God. I was able to touch a man of God,” he said.

Policarpio, now a public relations man, said the meeting with the pontiff was a life-changing experience because it helped him become a more prayerful person and develop a closer relationship with God.

He considers it his greatest achievement to have been part of the group that organized the papal visit.

“Pope John Paul surely deserves to become a saint because he touched the hearts of both Christians and non-Christians,he said.

Beatification, a step toward sainthood, bestows upon a candidate the title “blessed.”

The pope’s kiss

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Amadeo Forteza Jr. has secured many prominent persons but the visit of Pope John Paul II at the Nichols Air Base (now Villamor Air Base) in 1981 proved to be a life-changing experience.

Forteza, now 83, recalled vividly how the charismatic pope kissed his son Paulo, a special child, as he was being carried by his wife Lita.

Forteza, who led the security team during the pope’s visit to the air base, said the incident helped strengthen his faith and his love for his children.

“I told my wife: ‘Mommy, dress up. The pope will visit us.’ My wife and my son went to Nichols. The pope was very happy to see my son. He touched his face and kissed him,” he told The STAR yesterday.

Forteza said Pope John Paul II also gave his wife a papal medallion that they still treasure.

“I think the pope was happy to see someone who takes care of children with special needs,” he said.

Forteza said he and his wife were in high spirits after the encounter with the Polish church leader.

“I cannot describe fully the joy that we felt. It was a different experience. Now, the pope that gave us the medallion would soon be declared a saint,” Forteza said.

Forteza admitted that he felt pressure when he was tasked to secure the pope, but it was worth it.

“I saw him face-to-face while providing him security. That really boosted my morale,” the retired general said.

Forteza believes that God, through the intercession of John Paul II, is continuously helping his son improve and live a normal life.

Paulo, now 33, can travel by himself and is capable of making attractive sketches. Forteza said his son is aware and proud of his encounter with the pope in 1981.

Paulo graduated in 1997 from Norwalk High School in California and is now working for a non-government organization in Los Angeles.

Forteza, who retired from the service in 1984, believes God is continuously providing guidance to his family.

Another Filipino who experienced the pope’s kiss is Carmela Meim-Bataoil, daughter of Pangasinan Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in January 1995. Carmela, then 3, was visiting her uncle Fr. Dennis Meim.

Looking back, she said she is grateful for the experience and relates that from the time it happened, she and her family have received countless blessings. - With Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude

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