Fr Gus SMA celebrates Mass with Pope Francis

GSP-team-PhilippinesFr Gus O’Driscoll SMA ministers in the Good Shepherd parish in Las Pinas City, one of several cities that make up Manila, capital of the Philippines.

He is pictured with fellow SMA priests German Patiga and Tony Gelaga, who also work with Fr Gus in Good Shepherd.

Prior to going to Manila he was involved in the formation of Irish SMA priests, having returned from his mission in Ghana, where he went in 1977.

As it was not possible for all the clergy to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father during his visit to the Philippines a number were chosen from each diocese that are in the Manila area. Fr Gus was one of the fortunate 10 chosen from his diocese of Paranaque to participate in the Papal Mass in Manila Cathedral on Friday, 16 January.

Greetings from Manila on these wonderful days for the country with the arrival of Pope Francis.

He arrived from Sri Lanka at 6pm last evening. Huge numbers lined the streets to welcome him. Police estimate that around 800,000 lined the 12 km route from the airport to the Apostolic Nunciature, where he is staying. Each of the parishes within Manila sent about 120 ‘official’ delegates.

I had an early start this morning, leaving the parish house here at 4am to meet up with 10 other priests from our diocese for the Mass at Manila cathedral. Each diocese was asked to send 10 priests for this Mass, and I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen from our diocese. We reached the cathedral around 6.30am. By 8am it was full, for a Mass to begin at 11.30!

D-Ordination-Mass-26-Oct-20Manila cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the country. The original structure goes back more than 300 years. It has been damaged or party destroyed, and re-built 6 times over the centuries – twice by fire, and two other occasions by earthquakes ( one earthquake in the 19th century killed a lot of people, including the cathedral choir). But it suffered its most serious damage in 1945, bombed by the Japanese before Manila was liberated.

Wilmer Cacao SMA and Chris Lumagbas SMA were ordained to the Diaconate on 26 October 2014. Later this year they will be ordained to the priesthood and will return to Africa to begin their missionary life as SMA priests

We had very good strategic seats just about 15 meters from the Pope’s presiding chair, and even a bit closer to the lectern. There was a wonderful moment at the beginning of his homily. The gospel passage was from the end of John’s gospel, where Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him. The Pope is not very competent in English, so he read out his homily from his prepared text. He began with the words – “do you love me”. Many in the congregation answered spontaneously – “we do”. The Pope just laughed and laughed, and said – “I’m not asking you if you love me, I’m just reading out what Jesus asked”!

Great atmosphere, great celebration, wonderful singing.

He looked tired, and his voice rather weak at times (he is generally seen as soft spoken in all his public encounters). It is understandable, after 3 days in the heat of Sri Lanka, and at 78 years of age, operating with one lung. And he had already made a courtesy call to the president and government before coming to the cathedral. At 5pm this afternoon, he went to a basketball stadium to meet with families.

Tomorrow he flies to the island of Leyte, to visit the towns of Tacloban and Palo; these two towns lost more than 5,000 people in the massive typhoon of November 2013. He is scheduled to have lunch with 30 people who lost many family members.

Sunday morning he will meet the youth in an open park of one of the universities. The ‘big’ event comes in the afternoon – open-air Mass. When Pope John Paul II was here 20 years ago for World Youth Day 1995, an estimated 4 million people attended that Mass. Expectations are that this number will be exceeded on Sunday.

We pray for his strength and good health. He is a wonderful blessing for the entire universal church.

And it’s been a wonderful privilege to have been in his presence today.