The World Youth Day participants in Germany are now eagerly looking forward to meeting Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne two days from now. Meanwhile, those of us who had to remain in the Philippines because the German Embassy denied our visa application — effectively banning us from the gathering — are back in our offices, schools, or churches. Although we feel really hurt and disappointed, we understand that life must go on.
Last night, Mhay and I visited the office of Alab ng Kabataang Pilipino (AKAP) to get our passports and request for refunds. As we entered the AKAP office, I felt like I was attending a neighbor’s wake. There were some familiar faces, but the atmosphere was gloomy. The usual cheerful mood is gone, and I was attacked by this awkward feeling when you do not know what to say or how to start a conversation. It was like having trouble speaking with one whose relative just passed away. In this case, I did not know what to tell these people who, like me, had failed dreams of going to a foreign land, share experiences with other young people from other countries, and of course, meet the one who replaced our dear Pope John Paull II.
We visited the AKAP office several times during the application process to join the World Youth Day: during the orientation, the screening interviews, when we submitted our papers, when we deposited our initial payment, and before we went to Tagaytay for the pre-World Youth Day retreat (which now reminds me so much of my 1995 World Youth Day experience) with Father Larry Faraon. All those times, the young and not so young people radiated an aura of excitement. It was different last night, and it was probably worse last Friday, when the German Embassy snubbed our final appeals for reconsideration.
The AKAP people asked us to enter the room — the same room where we deposited our initial payment two months ago. There were also some would-be delegates claiming refunds and planning a possible Asian trip. We were given our passports, and we also requested for a copy of the letter from the Embassy. It’s curious how the 06-14-2005 on the subject was replaced with 23 Juni 2005 — the date when Mhay and I were interviewed. Could it be possible that what AKAP told us was true — that our visa application was denied even before we were interviewed?
We were also given initial refunds of $300 each, but we had to give it back after they verifed our records. They told us that they are only giving initial refunds to those who have paid the full package, which include the airline tickets. Those of us who gave only the initial payment will have to wait for probably a week to get our money back.
Before we left, we asked for the delegate’s uniforms — which was part of the P5,000 joining fee that we have paid earlier. They gave us the jacket and the the shirts, which we will never get to use in the 20th World Youth Day, anyway.
In an attempt to recover part of the expenses which we will never be able to refund, such as the visa application fee and the interview and joining fees, I decided to post at the auctions site eBay the jacket and other World Youth Day souvenir items.
May it also serve as a way to remember the irony that many young Filipinos — a people close to the heart of the founder of World Youth Day, and people of the country that hosted the “biggest gathering of people of all times” with Pope John Paul II in 1995 — were banned from experiencing the pilgrimage in Germany.
I am looking forward to the time when people of other countries will stop looking at the Philippines as a country of people who would grab every opportunity to be illegal immigrants (TNT) in the United States or in Europe. When that happens, there will probably be no more discriminations against us, Filipinos, and we will probably be allowed to join in as many international gatherings as we wish, whether we are in a big group of 600 or not.