DAGUPAN City, Pangasinan, Jan. 19, 2015—The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, was all “gracias” to the Argentine pontiff on behalf of the Filipino faithful for the success of his recently ended apostolic visit, telling him that Filipinos today will tell future generations about the stories and messages from the pontiff’s 2015 visit to the country.

“Gracias Santo Padre! We will never forget these five days. Our children and their children will never forget these five days, because we will tell them the stories of these five grace-filled days and they will tell them to their children,” says the prelate in a statement released earlier today.

Some 440 abandoned and neglected children, now under the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) perform several action songs to send off the Holy Father at 10:00 a.m., Villamor Air base, Jan. 19, 2015. (Photo: Analyn Perucho)

According to Villegas, Pope Francis’ words will live on in Filipinos’ stories, “embedded in our and their hearts”, something that constantly reminds the faithful about Jesus’ love.

Pricking the collective conscience

He described the pontiff’s messages as pricking the collective conscience of Filipino Catholics, especially about loving the poor, praying always, hoping amid challenges and keeping the faith.

“It is the voice of Jesus telling us, I am with you and I will not leave you orphans,” stresses the Lingayen-Dagupan prelate.

The prelate noticed one more thing in particular: the “paternal affection” Pope Francis showd to survivors of typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).

“In Tacloban, Holy Father, your voice pierced through the rains and strong winds. From your heart you intoned, Gracias!, looking up to the dark skies but clearly to heaven, and your gaze moving from the people patiently standing in the rain, to the image of the Blessed Mother tenderly holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Gracias!” Villegas says.

Villagas thanks the Pope for the tenderness with which he comforted Filipinos, reassuring them that Jesus will never abandon them.

Not orphans

“You thanked the Lord for not leaving us orphans amidst desperation, loss, misery and pain. And at that moment we were one with you in your thanksgiving to God. But we were also lifting up our own gratitude to God for sending you to us. We know that you, too, will not leave us orphans. That you will be with us, suffering with us who are poor, aged, sick, disabled, deaf, crippled, abandoned and ignored,” he adds.

The head of the bishops’ conference also thanked the pontiff for what many are calling Pope Francis’ “ministry of presence”

“Gracias Santo Padre for your warm smile that also came from your eyes, penetrating our heart, even our soul. How easily your smile came when you caught sight of the people jubilantly gathered to greet you in the streets, especially, unmindful of the heat, and in Tacloban and Palo, unmindful of the rain and wind,” he says.

Villegas takes note of how the Holy Father’s face would brighten up at the sight of young people and of the children whom he embraced and carried in his arms.

Pope Francis left the Philippines for the Vatican at around 10:45 a.m. Monday after a successful five-day apostolic and state visit, which allowed him to see and be seen by millions of cheering Filipinos who braved extreme weather conditions to welcome him and take part in the event. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)