It’s been three years since Pope Francis visited the Philippines, but Chef Jessie Sincioco remembers this time as if it happened just yesterday. Her smile widens and her eyes light up when she recalls her experience of cooking for the pope. “His schedule was so hectic,” she says. “Kaya I’m so grateful na every time ipapakita sa akin yung plate niya [after a meal], ubos naman.”

 

Every time the pope would leave the Apostolic Nunciature, which was his home in Manila, the kitchen staff, including Chef Jessie, would stand by the doors to send him off. On January 18, when the pope was about to leave for Luneta, Cardinal Chito Tagle pointed to Chef Jessie and proudly introduced her as the woman who had been preparing his meals. “The pope held my hands and would not let go,” shares Chef Jessie. “He kept saying, ‘Grazie mille, delicioso!’ [Thank you, delicious!] I couldn’t say anything… I was mesmerized by his [aura of ] holiness.”

 

Also Read: The Pope’s Food Parables

 

A Special Gift

In May of 2017, Chef Jessie flew to Rome to give Pope Francis a gift: a basket of the sweetest mangoes she could find. “During his visit, I found out the pope really likes our mangoes. One time pinakita nung waiter ko yung plato sa ‘kin, pati yung buto simot na simot. So I said I’ll try to get the sweetest mangoes and bring it to him.”

 

Though she has been to Rome several times, her trip in May last year was special because she was able to stay inside the Vatican at the invitation of her friend, Sr. Anna Cupito, who resides there. “I stayed in one of the rooms where the nuns stay,” Chef Jessie shares. “Hindi ako makapaniwala. Unang ginawa ko, I picked the mangoes and delivered them to Santa Marta, [where the pope lives]. I was met by his butler. The butler brought the mangoes straight to his room.”

 

Also Read: The Pope’s Home: Casa Santa Marta

 

This framed photo of Chef Jessie and Pope Francis hangs in a place of honor at her namesake restaurant in the Rockwell Club.

 

A Papal Audience

Chef Jessie also saw His Holiness again during the Papal Audience in Rome, where she was able to secure tickets to a special area usually reserved for diplomats. “It’s really different when you are face to face with a holy person. You feel so special that you are given that opportunity. So you just focus on it and you try to absorb every moment of the experience.”

 

But for Chef Jessie, an amazing experience such as this should always translate to something more. “It really made me more spiritual. Para bang you want to be just one with the Holy Father in praying for peace in the world. It makes you think you’ve been chosen to do this. So maybe I have a special mission.”

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This feature originally appears in the November 2017 issue of My Pope Philippines. Words by Angel C. Aquino.
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