Author Topic: A toast to Pope Francis on his PHL visit: “Here’s to a life of song!”  (Read 18410 times)

Joe Carillo

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The article below was shared with the Forum by Charlie A. Agatep, President & CEO of the agency Havas PR Agatep:

Singing for the Pope: Of songs and graces
Text and photos by Norman A. Agatep

I call them drummer boy moments—occasions that compel us to react with an expression of self. They are opportunities for us to share who we are and to offer what we do best. They are often our personal and selfless responses to God’s grace.

I feel a drummer boy moment coming up. And it will be on January 18 when I humbly join the 1,000-voice choir that will be singing during the concluding Mass of Pope Francis at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park. Choir rehearsal with the orchestra on Jan. 3, 2015 for the papal visit Mass.

This will not be the first time that our choir will be singing in the presence of the Vicar of Christ. When the Philippines hosted World Youth Day in 1995, the Bukas Palad Music Ministry also participated in the celebration of the Holy Mass with Pope John Paul II. But I’d like to think that the passing of two decades has made me appreciate more the significance of this year’s papal visit, and the tiny role we will play in events happening this week. Time has made me believe that the opportunity to sing before Pope Francis comes only through the grace of God and that Sunday will be our chance to create a drummer boy moment.

But our singing for the Pope may have been foreshadowed by chance happenings at the World Youth Day festival in Brazil last August 2013. Publications reported how a Philippine delegate, Rozanne Jamaica Vasallo, enjoyed a rare face-to-face encounter with Pope Francis when representatives from Japan and China failed to show up and take their spots to meet the pontiff. In their stead, Vasallo and a participant from Pakistan were presented to the Pope for a chat after the festival’s final Mass.

During the meeting, the Holy Father kissed the two on the cheek and gifted them with a crucifix necklace and a figurine of the Corcovado Mountain of Brazil, where the famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands. In exchange, Vasallo gave the pontiff a hug and handed him a CD featuring music from, yes, Bukas Palad. What are the chances, I asked myself after reading about Vasallo’s story.

I feel blessed being surrounded by the talented and generous bunch that is Bukas Palad, a choir we formed in 1986 with childhood chums Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ and Jandi Arboleda. Jandi and I were students at the Ateneo de Manila and Fr. Manoling had started to pursue his vocation with the Jesuits when we began collating songs we had written for an album to raise funds for the parish of Kristong Hari in Quezon City. Since then, and for 29 years running, we have continued to compose, record, and perform original liturgical and inspirational songs under the Jesuit Music Ministry. Some of the tunes Bukas Palad has produced include "Tanging Yaman," "Sa ‘Yo Lamang," "Panalangin Sa Pagiging Bukas Palad," "Anima Christi," "I Will Sing Forever," and "Humayo’t Ihayag." Today, many of these are sung wherever Filipinos around the world congregate to worship God.

Taking a break from practice for the papal visit Mass. Standing in the foreground are Fr. Nilo Mangussad, MSM, conductor, and Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ, songwriter.

In the months succeeding the Bohol earthquake and the devastation caused by typhoon Yolanda, Bukas Palad decided to gather our resources and to dedicate 2014 to creating activities for the choir that would help out victims of the recent calamities. Partnering with Fr. Manoling’s Tanging Yaman Foundation (TYF), we staged a concert tour in North America to encourage Filipinos there, who did not know how to support kababayans in calamity-stricken areas here, to donate to relief and rehabilitation projects of TYF. We produced our 19th album, Huwag Kang Mangamba, proceeds of which will benefit survivors of typhoon Yolanda. And we traveled to areas ravaged by calamities, visited new houses constructed by TYF for victims, and mounted prayer concerts featuring songs of hope and healing for communities in Bohol, Bantayan Island and Palawan. In a few weeks, we shall be traveling to Tacloban to do the same there.

It was on July 13, in between Bukas Palad’s outreach activities, when Fr. Manoling pulled me into the chapel at the Jesuit Residence in Ateneo and confided that he had been commissioned to write music for a Mass to be celebrated during the papal visit. Such grace, I thought, as I listened to Fr. Manoling’s song drafts—he played them for me on the chapel’s piano and asked for my critique. Even in their unfinished state, they were beautiful. Standouts for me were the "Gloria," an ambitious piece that borrows musical influences from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and the "Agnus Dei," whose stirring melody gives me goosebumps every time we sing it.

The author (in purple shirt) with some Bukas Palad members who will also sing on Jan. 18 for the Pope.

And so it happens. After weeks of rehearsals with fellow choristers and volunteer musicians who make up the orchestra, we shall be playing for the Lord on January 18 and before the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Such is the culmination of a string of graces leading to Sunday’s event. But such is also the start of a life’s worth of other blessings to come our way.

Tons of friends have messaged to say how privileged I am to be part of the papal choir and to ask jokingly if can smuggle them into the Quirino Grandstand on Sunday. While I realize I am lucky indeed, I know I am just one in a sea of voices and that should I fall ill and not show up this weekend, my absence will not make the slightest difference. But that doesn’t stop me from singing the best I can.

A line in one of Bukas Palad’s songs reads: “If we had to sing just one song to the Lord, Creator of life, may our lives be that song, resounding in praise to the goodness and glory of God.”

Our lives are full of God’s graces, and every moment is an invitation to respond with our whole being. The irony is that even the ability to ask, “Shall I play for Him?” and to say, “Yes,” is grace. Everything is grace.

Here’s to a life of song.

Norman A. Agatep is a songwriter and is one of the founders of the Bukas Palad Music Ministry. He is also the managing director and chief creative officer of Havas Worldwide Manila, president of the Internet Mobile and Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP), immediate past president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Phils (AAAAp), and professor of Marketing Communications at Ateneo de Manila University.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2015, 12:44:42 PM by Joe Carillo »