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AT PRESENTATION of credentials, Pope Benedict XVI with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Philippines to the Holy See, Cristina Ponce Enrile

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AMBASSADOR Enrile introduces granddaughter Maria Karina to Pope Benedict XVI, as granddaughters Kristine Kamille and Kara Nicole look on.

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POPE Benedict XVI formally gives his blessings to the newly-invested Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See



Cristina Ponce Enrile in love, at peace

By Thelma Sioson San Juan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:40:00 01/17/2009

Filed Under: People, Lifestyle & Leisure

TURNING 72 last Jan. 1, Cristina Ponce Enrile loves two men now more than ever in her life: God and her husband ?Johnny,? the senator and consummate politician.

In the former, she puts her absolute trust and faith each waking day. ?Tomorrow is not ours, it?s God?s,? she says, relaxed in her vast lanai/living room.

Of the latter, she talks with a smile: ?My husband is very caring now. Not a day passes by without him telling me he loves me.?

Such equanimity?happiness even?hasn?t always been there. Almost 10 years ago, one late morning, she sat facing us right in that lanai declaring her independence from her marriage, baring her battered heart for all front-page readers to scrutinize.

Today, at the threshold of a new year, all that seems ancient history, ancient angst. Mrs. Enrile is not only living the moment; she is so in the moment.

And that moment feels like a dream. Never in her childhood did she imagine herself to be an ambassador one day, least of all to the Vatican. She is now, and tonight in her Makati home, we are going over the incredible experience of her first few months last year in the Vatican as ambassador to the Holy See.

Seated so casually on the bar stool, wearing a classic silk blouse and trousers, a giant cross pendant her only prominent accent, Mrs. Enrile leafs through the pages of an album bearing fresh pictures of her and her family in the Vatican.

She, her husband and the rest of her family can never forget that day, Oct. 27, last year, when she presented her credentials to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

The ?gentlemen of the Pope,? as she calls her escorts, picked her up in the morning in the Vatican limousine. With motorcycle escorts, the limousine bearing her and the van loaded with her kin and entourage wound their way to the Vatican. There in the ceremonial hall she was received by the Pope.

?He?s a very genteel person. He exudes such kindness,? she says of the head of the Catholic Church. She and the Pope talked for about half an hour. He said the Philippines and the Vatican are ?very close.? ?He was always emphasizing inter-faith in our country,? she recalls.

The Pope gave Mrs. Enrile and her husband medallions, and the rest of her entourage, rosaries. After her presentation to the Pope, she was led down the steps leading to the Blessed Sacrament in the Basilica, where the priests with incense awaited them, and then to the tomb of St. Peter and the Virgin Mary shrine. She also met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Back when she turned 60, she told herself she would retire, leave her position as chairman of her family?s Jaka Group, and go easy in her social, civic activities. In fact, she didn?t.

Since she became ambassador, she?s had a full calendar, almost seven days a week meeting with nuns, priests, and other Filipinos in the Vatican who come to her for help, and attending official functions. ?It?s hard work,? she says, with a hint of irony. But then she enjoys meeting people from various countries and walks of life.

?I?m not a politician,? she says, ?and my work is not economic or political. It?s more in the spiritual realm.?

It was in December 2007 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called Sen. Enrile to ask if his wife would be interested to be ambassador plenipotentiary. The Enriles asked to be given two days to think about it.

?I decided to take it for two reasons?to serve God and country,? she now says tersely.

?Fr. (James) Reuter told me that the only way you can help the Pope is by helping the poor, and I?ve always kept that in mind.?

The renowned Jesuit, James Reuter, has been a mentor to Cristina since 1951 when she was a student at St. Paul?s College, and a counselor and friend to her almost since that time.

One in a brood of six, Cristina Castaner was schooled in the convent and was raised in a strict, conservative home where she was no stranger to religious work. She?s been in religious and charity work for more than 40 years now?has seen many into priesthood, has helped build churches and even a basilica, has led the Senate and, for a time, Cabinet spouses in their many social, civic projects. She has been a politician?s wife since 1965; the challenge which that has posed to her was no alien territory.

Did the opposition to her appointment as ambassador faze her? ?I knew from the start that wasn?t really meant for me,? she says, referring to the messy politics her husband is in. ?People judge you without really knowing you.?

Obviously, it didn?t set her back; other life?s obstacles didn?t either. This fragile-looking woman is apparently made of sturdier stuff. Jaime Cardinal Sin once told her pointblank, ?You?re a woman of very strong faith.?

Indeed, ask her what has seen her through a very interesting life, she says instantly, ?Faith.?

Her 52 years of marriage, she says, was about ?sharing the ups and downs of life.? Talk of her marriage brings a smile to her face.

?Now in our old age,? she says of her marriage to one of the most powerful and colorful men in recent history, ?we?re closer.? She adds that he?s more caring now.

The Enriles have a daughter, Katrina, who?s taken over the reins of the family business, and a son, Jack, a politician. They have eight grandchildren.

She says she?s learned ?to live one day at a time? because, she repeats, ?tomorrow belongs to God.?

The inner peace is palpable. ?I thank God on bended knees each morning for giving me this day,? she says. ?I?m more at peace now, perhaps the sacred grounds (of the Holy See) have touched me in many ways.?

She has just spent the afternoon of that day at V. Luna Hospital where, with other spouses of senators, she is helping build a ward. We tell her she shows no signs of slowing down.

?Like God?s soldier, I will plod on,? she says, ?until this body falls apart.?

Incidentally, that body and face?still so smooth and sufficiently lined with wrinkles?have not felt the need for a facelift or cosmetic surgery, as is the vogue among Mrs. Enrile?s contemporaries.

?No surgery,? she beams, proud.

Now that?s contentment.

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