One day in September 2017, I received a phone call from my friend Serge Pun. He phoned from Myanmar to tell me that the Archbishop of Yangon was in a bind about the impending visit of Pope Francis which was set to take place in less than three months. The small Catholic Church of Myanmar did not have enough money in its coffer to pay for all the local expenses. (The TV company would broadcast the live telecast free of charge, but the Church had to pay for the rental of satellite bandwidth.) Serge had promised that he would help solve the Archbishop's problem, and was soliciting assistance from me and another one of his good Catholic friends to pay for this TV broadcast expense. Over the phone I immediately agreed to open my wallet for this good cause, and electronically remitted the funds (amount omitted) on the same day. At the time, I view it as the performance of the duty of a Catholic disciple, and the answer to the plea of a dear friend. I expected nothing in return and had no inkling that I would gain an opportunity to meet with the Holy Pope.
Two months later, on November 20, 2017, I received another phone call from Serge.
"Would you like to see the Pope up close and personal?" He asked.
"Is this a joke? Who would say no to such a great honor?" I wanted to know.
"And what do you mean by up close?" I added.
"Only us three donors and our close dependents."
It turned that in appreciation to our donation and assistance, the Archbishop of Myanmar made a special arrangement for us to meet with Pope Francis. That was only eight days before the Pope's arrival in Myanmar.
Pope Francis arrived in Yangon on November 27, the same day Polly and I got there. The second day, November 28, Pope Francis went to Naypyidaw, the new capital of Myanmar since 2006, to meet with Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other military and political leaders. The 3rd day, November 29 at 9 am, the Pope celebrated mass on an open field in Yangon. The temperature that day was 38 C (100.4 F). In order to occupy a seat closer to the alter, thousands of faithfuls entered the ground the previous night. By 7 am, two hours before the mass began the field was crammed with 150,000 people. The papal mass was conducted under a hot blazing sun, all attendees were drenched in sweat. As VVTPs, we were seated in the only area that was covered by open canopies and was shielded from the direct scorching sun. Even so, since we were wearing suits, our shirts were totally soaked.
That afternoon, Pope Francis stood in reception line for 500 priests, nuns, bishops and cardinals from all over Southeast Asia. That was the first time I saw so many members of the clergy stood in line like parading military officers and soldiers.
Finally, at around 5 pm, it was our turn to meet with the Pontiff in the Archbishop's residence. Our party of 9 people from 3 families was the only group of non-clergyman he would meet privately and photograph with in this entire trip.
We waited respectfully in the main hall for about 25 minutes before the great moment arrived! We heard Pope Francis and his entourage slowly walking into the main hall. Our heartbeats accelerated with the approaching footsteps. After his long flight from Rome plus two days of packed schedule, the Pope seemed a little fatigued. But he still shook our 9 hands with a warm smiling face. He gave us his blessing and had pictures taken with our 3 families separately.
What honored and touched us most was how tightly Pope Francis held our hands with both of his hands. We could feel a warm current flowing from the Pontiff's palms directly into our hearts. This was indeed the greatest honor of our lives. For me, a baptized Catholic since infancy, this was the greatest blessing of a lifetime. I thank God for His gracious gift.