First Person: Painting Pope Francis
January 6, 2015 7:17pm
A painting of Pope Francis by Joseph Morong
When Pope Francis arrives in the Philippines on January 15, Filipinos will have a firsthand encounter with the well-loved pontiff regarded as "the People's Pope".
Up until that point, Pope Francis has been seen by majority of Filipinos only in television addresses and pictures, his words echoed in news reports and articles.
But now Filipinos will have a chance to see him and give him a warm Pinoy welcome as only we can provide. What better way to usher the New Year with renewed faith and fresh hope brought about by his visit.
"Mercy and compassion" is the theme of his visit, two words that may very well serve us in good stead as we live out the new year.
His visit will bring him to Manila and to Tacloban in a four day visit from January 15-19.
Looking at his photographs in preparation for a painting I was going to do for a story on art about Pope Francis, I could see an affable man — his eyes bright, his smile wide, as though every encounter was a blessing.
And he seems to be a favorite among kids. Who could forget the kid who ran toward him on stage while he was delivering his public address? The Pope, instead of being irked, allowed the little boy to stay with him.
In Brazil, a boy jumped out of the throng of people by the roadside, rushed toward the Pope Mobile to get a closer look and skirted security to get to the Pope. With an embrace, the boy told the Pope that he wanted to become a priest one day.
"Lolo Kiko," a name which a Filipino priest called the Pope at an event in Vatican seemed apt to describe him.
Despite carrying on his shoulders the heavy burden of reintroducing the Church to a younger audience, Pope Francis' accessible yet revolutionary ways seem to have accomplished this mission.
And so these are the images and impressions I kept in mind while I set out to paint his portrait.
The challenge was to capture his spirit.
Through several days (including Christmas eve), I religiously studied the contours of his face, how his eyes squinted in some pictures (to get an idea of the shape of his eyes through several angles), his chin, his forehead, his cheekbones.
I experimented with colors, and at one point grew frustrated with achieving his pinkish tone (at least based on the photo), me being used to Asian skin tones.
But I soldiered on, leaving to circumstance and fate how the final painting would look like.
As with other paintings, there were good days, when brush strokes seemed better, the colors quicker to find.
That is why, to some people, paintings can be spiritual, a communion between the painter and the subject.
In the end, it would still be an artist's impression of his subjects, processed internally and executed by the mind and the hands.
I'm not sure how close I could get to Pope Francis when coverage of his visit starts. But I do hope that when you  or I you see him, the painting approximates his spirit.
I was asked several times on social media if the painting will be given to Pope Francis as a gift. In the general scheme of things, I don't even know if he knows such paintings exist. But I am just happy to use God's gift to mark a special occasion for all of us Filipinos. — JST, GMA News

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