The soldier and the saint

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by  Jacqui Acop – Paraguya

As I calmly lined up together with the other members of the Presidential Security Group to meet the Pope in person, I was humbled and joyous at the realization that I was  going to personally meet Christs representative on earth.

Colonel Dennis Acop (Retired) was a former soldier in the Philippine Army. He studied at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and later went to the United States Military Academy (USMA), more popularly known as West Point. He served the Philippine government for close to 30 years before retiring and entering the private sector. He is a lector at the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Quezon City, together with his wife, Joji.

Colonel Dennis Acop (Retired) was a former soldier in the Philippine Army. He studied at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and later went to the United States Military Academy (USMA), more popularly known as West Point. He served the Philippine government for close to 30 years before retiring and entering the private sector. He is a lector at the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Quezon City, together with his wife, Joji.

Col. Dennis Acop (ret.) was part of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos. He had prior encounters with PopeSt. John Paul II because of his trips to the Vatican for ocular inspections prior to the visits of FVR to Italy and the Vatican.

When Pope St. John Paul II came to the Philippines for World Youth Day in January 1995, Col. Dennis was automatically involved in the pope’s protection. At the time, he was the commander of the Presidential Security Group-Special Reaction Unit (PSG-SRU).

As he was both the leader of the Catholic faith and head of state, Pope St. John Paul II was accorded the highest level of protection possible both from local and international security and intelligence groups.

Just before the good Pope’s departure from the country, everyone involved in securing his trip lined up at the Manila Archbishop’s residence to bid the Pope farewell and to receive a personal blessing from him. Col. Dennis described that rare privilege of experiencing a blessing that deepened his faith on the Catholic church.

A Pope of Peace 

According to Col. Dennis, protecting the pope was simply part of protocol for him and his team. The methods they used were the same across all VIPs they had protected. However, there was something unique about the Pope that set him apart from other VIPs. Being allowed to have close encounters with the Pope, he observed that there was a different aura surrounding him.

He narrated:“There was something about being around a holy man of God. St. John Paul II was that kind of a person. He was not like the usual VIPs we were used to protecting. In the midst of this materialistic world, being around Saint John Paul II suddenly yanked me out of that world. His world of holiness was laid out before me. It was a simplistic but very real holiness.”

Once when they were at Malacañang with the Pope, a colleague in the military who was dying begged the PSG personnel to let him be blessed by the Pope. After he was visited and blessed by the Pope, the soldier said he was ready to face death. One thing Col. Dennis will always remember and treasure about the Pope was his gentleness and peacefulness, which comforted his suffering colleague.

Graces of the Encounter

Ever since he was a neophyte in military school, Col. Dennis dreamt of becoming a successful five-star general. However, his encounters with the face of Christ throughout his life pushed him toward a different direction.

In his encounter with St. John Paul II, Col. Dennis was deeply inspired by the pope’s humility. St. John Paul II has always been known to be the pope who visited and forgave enemies–even the person who attempted to assassinate him. He is also known to humbly reach out to the leaders of other religions, calling them to peace and unity with the Christians.

Witnessing the humility of the leader of the Catholic faith, Col. Dennis decided to leave his military career, which guaranteed worldly success but also of temptations leading to corruption. He retired from military service at the early age of 46.

One of his favorite quotes from the late Fr. James Reuter, SJ, which summarizes his journey sparked by that encounter with St. John Paul II, is:“Man is noblest not when he is riding on horseback but when he is kneeling before his God.” His decision to leave his military career in humility to follow the example of St. John Paul II during the crossroads of his life was not an easy feat. He had his doubts and storms, but he kept praying for guidance and he was never led back by God to his previous life.

At present, Col. Dennis is working for the private sector but has involved himself actively in the service of his parish as a lector.

Col. Dennis is my dad, and I’ve witnessed God’s power through him and my family as I was growing up. I breathed a word of praise and thanksgiving as he affirmed me:“If you want to be truly happy in life, you have to go for the truth and surrender to Christ everything, even your ambitions, in all humility.”

As we draw closer to the Papal Visit of Pope Francis in January 2015, may we continue to pray for the Popes protection and for all the PSG men assigned to secure his visit. Also, may our individual encounters with the Pope help us renew ourselves and see the beauty of working for the bigger mission Christ has laid for us.

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