“ I saw him, and I felt him”
It all started like a dream. When I heard the news that His Holiness Pope Francis I was to visit Uganda, I got exhilarated owing to the fact that I grew up in a Catholic family where meeting the Pope was synonymous with the ‘impossible’.
I couldn’t wait to get accredited by the Uganda Media Centre for the Popal coverage as assigned by my editor. Yes I was named among the few who had to cover the Popal visit, but I remained one of the doubting Thomases waiting to touch his scars.
November 26, 2015 was a restless night for me as I spent it thinking of how I would position myself to take the most historic and memorable photos of Pope Francis’s maiden trip to Africa. As you could imagine, in this era of social media, I took to social media to share with friends and family through tweets, tests and Facebook posts informing whoever cared that I had secured a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture the memories of the Pontiff.
Clad in my favourite checkered shirt and Jean Trousers with Timberland shoes, I picked my gadgets and headed to Entebbe International airport to wait the Servant of God.
At the Airport
Like never before, the level of alertness among security personnel was unprecedented. It took us half an hour to get checked so we could access the airport including the aircraft parking lot. Thanks to our positions as journalists, security quickly processed our entry so we could relay the Pontiff’s arrival to the rest of Ugandans. Remember the Pontiff’s Allitalia special aircraft had been scheduled to land at the renovated old airport.
Once inside the airport, security threw another bombshell when they imposed a sudden ban of the use of Mobile Phones and other electronic equipment with the sole exception of cameras. This was a big blow to my fellow radio scribes who had come with recorders and cell-phones in the hope of making live reports.
We too from the newspapers, were struck by the announcement considering that we had planned to use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to deliver the news in real time.
Thanks to the intervention of Uganda Media Centre staff, the situation quickly resolved by asking all reporters to submit their gadgets for thorough checking.
Once certified by security, another order was issued stopping anyone from taking pictures until the Pope’s moment. But journalists are not your submissive kind. They set their cameras pointing into the sky waiting for AliTalia – the Pope’s aircraft.
After more than two-three hours of waiting, hunger pangs started biting. This all thanks to the fact that the old airport has no single restaurant because it is used only by the president when flying in or out of the country.
Pandemonium broke out when power went off in the airport sparking off panic among television crews that had planned for planned for live broadcast. Fortunately, technicians swung into action and managed to bring the situation back to normal.
The sight of Kenyan Airways landing at the old airport caused some excitement as some people thought the Pontiff perhaps had decided to take an easy ride from Kenya to Uganda. Alas, it turned out that it was the President of South Sudan Salvar Kiir.
At around, 3:30pm, three men dressed in black suits, armed with walki-talkies emerged from the airport lounge to deliver some message. As we had read bits of Vatican literature, these where the Swiss Guards who are entrusted with the Popes’ security. This was the biggest indicator yet that the Pontiff was soon touching down. This was further strengthened by the arrival of President Museveni along with his wife and a few of his ministers who lined up to receive the Pope.
A special choir that had been assembled for the occasion begun singing and playing special instruments befitting of the occasion. This did not stop security from engaging into a scuffle with a few journalists who were increasingly drawing closer to get vantage positions.
Eventually, Alitalia descended slowly from the East before touching the tarmac amid great fan fare and celebration.
The moment of truth had come. My heart raced, but I knew I had a job to do. Take the most memorable photo.
Finally the door of Alitalia swung open, giving way to 40-man team of journalists. The Popal Nuncio Archbishop Michael Augustine Blume stepped out to open for the Pope.
Arrival of Francis
After descending from the plane, the Pontiff was treated to a 25 gun salute to the joy of followers.
Dressed in cream white, black shoes and black trousers, Francis looked as Godly as he could.
And that Papal Touch
Amid tight security Pope Francis proceeded to the Airport VIP lounge only to be asked by the President to greet the dancers who eagerly chanted his name. Amid the confusion, I got a rare opportunity to touch his choir dress. It is a spectacular blessing in the catholic faith that I could not let pass.
It is safe to say that many of us in the media fraternity were overcome by joy and excitement that we got carried away by the desire to get the Potiff’s blessings. Indeed as he boarded his little black Kia car, we followed him to get blessings. Fortunately, his driver slowed down a bit so he could wave at us.
At Munyonyo Matyrs Shrine, the Pope continued to touch the hearts of many including yours truly when he proclaimed; “Mukama Abawe Omukisa” – meaning God bless you. It was indeed a blessing and I felt bonded when he blessed this nation in my mother tongue.
At the end, I can only say that Pope Francis’s coming to the Pearl of Africa was a new beginning in my life and a source of hope. Indeed, Who am I, the son of a peasant to have been blessed by the successor of Peter?