Pope John Paul II : A Visit to Tondo
April 07, 2005
By Rina Jimenez-David
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the April 8, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
IN HIS novel "A Watch in the Night," Denis Murphy writes of the preparations and politics behind the visit of Pope John Paul II to Manila in the dark days of martial law.
Fr. Ben Santos, the Jesuit provincial, is summoned to Rome, supposedly
to help prepare the Pope's speeches and homilies in Manila and also to
give background information on the social and political situation
obtaining in the country.
But the Pope has another reason for summoning the Jesuit provincial.
His predecessor Pope Paul VI, who had visited Manila 10 years earlier
and paid a memorable visit to a poor family in Tondo, had written in
his will: "Do what men can for the Tondo woman and my unforgivable
sin." Santos is given an intriguing assignment: to find the woman, and
to assess if the Pope should visit the same family that Paul VI had
For help, Santos turns to another Jesuit, Tim Murtaugh, who has lived
and worked among the Tondo poor for years. Murtaugh easily finds the
woman who had hosted Paul VI, for little had changed in Tondo and in the poor
people's lives. It is Nora Morales who unravels the mystery of "the
AFTER HE left her house, says Nora, she followed the Pope down a muddy
alley and found a young woman holding a baby close to the Pope's face.
"God forgive me, but it looked like a little monkey, a gray monkey ...
its head flopped back and forth ... The woman was holding out the baby
to the Pope, offering it and suddenly she pulled the baby away and ran
down that alley there."
Running after the young mother, Nora asked what had happened. The
mother tells her that she wanted a blessing for her sick child, but
when she looked at the Pope's face, she saw that he wanted to vomit.
"Can you imagine how she felt?" asked Nora. "You can't, can you?"
In the novel, the new Pope does end up visiting Tondo again, and,
against the wishes of his advisers, meets not just with "the Pope's
woman," but also the mother of a little girl who'd been killed by
government troops in a protest march.
Murphy writes that "A Watch in the Night," though fiction, is "based
in part on what people did or suffered during the martial law period."
In the following excerpt from the novel, Murphy "recounts" the new
Pope's visit to Tondo and the stirring speech he delivered in support
of the poor and in rebuke of the rich and mighty. I don't remember any
such speech during that visit, else it would have created a huge
splash, but a careful reading of the Pope's more obscure phrasings
would yield basically the same message. Perhaps this fictionalized
account is wishful thinking on Murphy's part. Still, the message bears
repeating, lest we forget that Pope John Paul II cared as much about
afflicting the comfortable as he did about comforting the afflicted.
"WHERE are your women?" the Pope asked. He was all business. Murtaugh
led him to the roped-off area. The mother of the dead girl wore a
green dress ... Pope Paul's woman was in white. She held her new baby
carelessly over her shoulder like a small sack of rice ... When the
Pope held the little girl, its head flopped against his chest. He put
his hand behind the child's head, with his fingers in its thick hair
to steady it and looked at the pinched, gray features and the
unblinking eyes. If he hadn't been prepared, he would have reacted
like Paul ... He kissed the child on the lips.
"The people around waited for something dramatic, but he simply
returned the child to the mother ... Then he embraced the mother of
the dead girl and stomped back to the speaker's stand.
"... The Pope told the people it saddened him and the Church that so
little had been done since the visit of Paul: 'Despite your efforts,
your good ideas and actions, nothing is changed. This is still not a
place for children ...' When he wanted to stress a line ... he paused
until all sound subsided and then spoke very softly."
SANTOS heard the Pope speak the words he had written: "'We are the
Church of the poor. We will listen to the voices of the poor. We will
listen to their voices because others have proven to be false guides.
Every person and government that have the good of ordinary people at
heart will find in the Church, in this Pope, a friend and ally.'
"'We do not know all of what it means to be the Church of the poor. It
may be that we must distance ourselves from the rich and powerful. Not
all rich and influential people are to be avoided, but we are not as
wise as Jesus who knew how to separate the rich who sought justice,
such as Nicomedus and Matthew, from the others.'
"He rolled up the text of his prepared speech and pointed with it at
the squatter shacks visible beyond the compound walls. 'Wrong. Not for
children!' he shouted. 'Wrong in the eyes of God.' He sent Murtaugh to
get the child.
"The Pope held the child while he spoke. 'Nothing is changed. What
judgment must we pass? You see this child? Pope Paul came years ago
when the child's brother was this age. See, this child is half dead,
so was her brother then. Pope Paul is gone, but still there are these
poor children ... if a Pope comes back here again and finds such
children, what punishment will your Church and government deserve?'
"'I call on the government to stop its slum clearance program that
punishes so many poor families. The poor are not the problem. If God
is with them, how then can they be problems? We can do better. As the
only Christian country in Asia we must have a program to benefit
everyone. Do not kill. Do not evict.'...
"It was thrilling, the Church and the poor, a powerful voice ringing
with the simple truth of the Gospel, like dawn after a night of fear
and rape. At last a Pope in the full splendor of his office stood and
threatened to bring God's punishment down on those who did violence to