PEARL & LUISA at Papal Visit 2015

Aime S. de Asis – Fabila, Ma Theresa M. Collante & Sandra V. Navarra

Hope and eager anticipation. Inspired by the theme “Mercy and compassion”, and propelled by the lyrics of “We are all God’s children” penned and sang by Jamie Rivera, the PEARL (People Empowerment for Arthritis and Lupus) movement through the Section of Rheumatology, joined the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and entire Filipino community in the eager preparations for Pope Francis’ coming.

Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and psoriatic arthritis, rheumatology consultants, trainees and staff,  as well as medical students – rushed to make a video production of the Papal visit theme song from dawn till midnight on the 28th of November. These patients truly represented the YOUTH – EMPOWERED despite their chronic illnesses:

Eloisa a cross-stitch artist, has had longstanding deforming rheumatoid arthritis. EJ is a talented sketch artist despite his deforming, disabling psoriatic arthritis. Winston was voted “Happiest Pinoy” despite suffering from painful ankylosing spondylitis; he is joined by daughter Brina who was chosen ambassador to special Olympics despite her Down’s syndrome. Mercy and Grace are identical twins with lupus diagnosed in childhood. Robelle , suffering from lupus nephritis, is a former medical student and now an active research associate in the field of lupus. These patients nobly affirmed that despite their chronic and debilitating illness, they can be productive members of socitey and serve as an inspiration to others, because “…we are all God’s children and we are all the same…”

Abegail is a lupus nephritis patient and a typhoon Yolanda survivor. Eija 5 years old, and Loreine 10 years old have juvenile arthritis. Angela 18 years old has lupus nephritis. Mary Diane and Mickey both 14 years old also have lupus nephritis. Rhiezel 19 years old has lupus nephritis.

November 28 turned out to be a day of rediscovery of the beauty of the UST grounds, a blissful fun-filled day for the patients, caregivers, staff and doctors, and a blessed day ending with a soft evening rain which foretold the hundredfold blessings that January 18 – the scheduled day of Pope Francis visit to UST – will bring.

The DAY of the Pope’s visit to UST– January 18, Sunday – arrived. Amidst the hustle-bustle of crowds starting to gather around the gates of UST campus in the evening of January 17, the 22 patients with lupus and arthritis chosen to participate during the Youth Encounter, accompanied by their caregivers and the UST Rheumatology staff, assembled in the assigned “Persons With Disabilities (PWD)” area at 1 o’clock AM before the break of dawn. Other patients joined in – including Cathy a music teacher with lupus nephritis, Jayvee who has been on hemodialysis for three years because of lupus nephritis, Christine with lupus nephritis preparing for kidney transplant, Karen and Marilou undergoing therapy for lupus nephritis, Adora and Jessica both visually impaired due to lupus complications, and wheelchair-borne Ruffie with psoriatic arthritis.

Each time “We are all God’s children” echoed throughout the university campus, people sang and performed the gestures.  When the 1995 Papal visit (Pope John Paul II) World Youth Day theme song  “Let us tell the world of His love” played, the air was further filled with nostalgia, with  people young and old singing, swaying while holding hands. “A Precious Gem” was PEARL’s voice that blessed morning.  Penned by Adrian Ramirez and music by Cathy Zulueta, the simplicity of its lyrics and soothing melody reflected  the meaningful and inspiring lives of patients with lupus and arthritis.  Finally, the Holy Father arrived at the landmark UST Arch of the Centuries – everywhere he passed, people simply couldn’t have enough of him; his was truly a reverent, tender and blessed presence.  Moved by the exuberant crowd, seemingly hungry for the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis set aside his prepared speech and addressed the 24,000 – plus community.  Like a wise and loving father to a child, he told the Filipino youth to “offer one’s self passionately and honestly to the great work of renewing the society and helping to build a better world.”  He said that it is important that we “learn how to weep” because “certain realities of life we only see with eyes cleansed with tears.”  He also shared the Gospel — a serene way to live is “to think, to feel, to do, and all in harmony.”

The ceremonies ended in prayer and celebration.  All refreshed by the rain and with a renewed faith, Pope Francis led the Angelus, and then joined in singing “We are all God’s children”, and “Let us tell the world of His love.”

Pope Francis’ thoughts on love — “Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved…  Real love is being open to the love that comes to you.  The love that surprises us…  God reveals himself through surprises.” For PEARL, the pontiff’s visit was a wonderful and blessed surprise.  God’s way of surprising us, of loving us…and through Pope Francis, His loving reminder that this inspiration should bear fruit, that this love must be extended to those in need, in pain, and especially to the unloved.  That in everything, at every moment, what we think, feel, and do, should be the most loving thing to think, feel, and do.  Salamat po, Papa Francis!