Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines on Thursday, Jan. 15, and was welcomed by tens of thousands of Filipinos lining the streets of the country’s capital, Manila, in a papal frenzy. People waited for hours ahead of the pontiff’s arrival to have a view of his motorcade as it traveled from Pasay City’s Villamor Airbase to the Vatican Embassy.
It is the pope’s first visit to the country, which is Asia’s biggest Catholic nation and home to 60 percent of the 130 million Catholics in Asia. He is to rally millions of faithful Filipino Catholics and offer comfort to the calamity-stricken people. He is like a father visiting his children, and his visit is an opportunity to renew the faith of those who are suffering, said Rector Gregory Gaston of the Philippine Pontifical College in Rome.
Excitement for Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines has been building since as early as last year and has intensified as the date of the visit came closer. Souvenir shirts, coffee mugs and fans that feature the image of the pope are hot commodities. His images adorn the streets, and many people take selfies with those which are life-sized. Music CDs dedicated to the pope as well as a commemorative coin by Central Bank have been released.
His arrival was marked by church bells ringing for 15 minutes throughout the country. The 78-year-old Argentine, Pope Francis, is the first pope from outside Europe for nearly 1,300 years. His visit to the Philippines is his second trip to Asia. Reaching out to the world is the hallmark of his papacy.
The pope will officiate three masses, which are expected to draw millions – a turnout that could surpass that of Pope John Paul II 20 years ago, who had 5 million attendees for his mass in Manila. Pope Francis is also set to visit Tacloban, the hardest hit of super storm Haiyan in 2013, where thousands of people died.
While Pope Francis is heartily welcomed by Filipinos who are in a state of papal frenzy, author Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa’s Vatican Insider news site wrote that papal visits are always stirring. She said the pope’s visit to the Philippines will be a jumpstart for stronger Catholicism in the country.
Pope Francis is notable for his humility and for being an advocate for the masses, including the downtrodden and the poor, in the enforcement of the doctrines of the Church. He played a big role when Cuba and the U.S. agreed on normal relations. He washed the feet of AIDS patients, prison inmates and lepers. He has been known to plunge into crowds to shake people’s hands.
Referring to the recent Paris terrorism, the pope called religious leaders, including Muslims, to condemn those who justify their violent acts with fundamentalist views. He calls for all people, regardless of faith, to respect the religions of others and unite as a global community.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis was the archbishop of Buenos Aires and was known for his humility. He lived in a simple apartment instead of the archiepiscopal palace and did not take his chauffeured car, but rather took the bus, to work. He also cooked his own meals.
Right after his election as pope in March 2013, people were already hinting that he was different. As he stepped out of the St. Peter’s balcony before the traditional act of blessing the people, Pope Francis asked them to pray for him first, and bowed before the crowd to receive their blessings.
Pope Francis, who is an inspiration to many, is being welcomed by Filipinos, who are in a papal frenzy to receive him. In the Church, he is an advocate of discussions about abortion, divorce and homosexuality, while upholding religious doctrines regarding such issues. For being a positive impact on the world, the pontiff was chosen by Time Magazine as Person of the Year in 2013.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy of Catholic Church England and Wales – License