Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the Philippines has officially come to a close, signalling the end of His Holiness’ week-long Apostolic Journey of mercy and compassion that started in Sri Lanka.
The Papal Visit, which started with the Pope’s arrival in the late afternoon of January 15 and concluded with his departure on the morning of January 19, was an event of grand celebration. It literally drew millions from all over the country who sacrificed countless hours waiting and endured uncomfortable circumstances just to catch a glimpse of him. What added to the people’s excitement was the fact that this papal visit was the first since Saint Pope John Paul II visited for World Youth Day in 1995.
The LaSallian helps you relive the Pope’s historic journey to the Philippines and all its highlights, through the eyes of social media, which has become a major part of today’s culture. From the moment he arrived, to his emotional journey to Tacloban, Leyte, to his concluding mass in the Quirino Grandstand, every step of the #PapalVisitPH of the Holy Father is highlighted here.
The build-up and Day 1 – January 15
Anticipation was high from the get go as the Philippine government meticulously prepared for months to ensure the Pope’s safety during his short visit. Several roads were blocked off while thousands of volunteers and police officers worked to keep crowds in check. On the other side of things, the Holy Father himself humbly asked for prayers via Twitter before setting off on his journey.
The head of the Vatican arrived in Villamor Air Base in the afternoon of January 15. He was welcomed by government officials together with a dance number by students from schools in the Diocese of Paranaque at the tarmac.
Upon exiting the base, he was welcomed by a massive and energetic crowd who lined up along his entire route to the Apostolic Nunciature along Taft Avenue.
Day 2 – January 16
On his first morning in the Philippines, Pope Francis visited the Malacañang Palace to meet with President Benigno Aquino III and other civil authorities. Afterwards, both the Pope and President delivered speeches to address the Filipino nation.
The Holy Father then travelled to the historic Manila Cathedral in Intramuros where he celebrated his first public mass in the Philippines. Members of the clergy filled the historic venue while thousands gathered outside in the scorching heat just to get a glimpse of him.
Several mass-goers waited in front of the Manila Cathedral to catch a glimpse of the pontiff but he surprised everyone at the last minute, exiting from a side door instead to greet a different set of pilgrims in that area.
Upon returning to the Papal Nunciature, he sent out a message to his followers on Twitter in both English and Filipino. Inspired by the mass he had celebrated just moments before, he said, “The Philippines bear witness to the youthfulness and vitality of the Church.”
Up next on Pope Francis’ itinerary was an “Encounter with Families” at the Mall of Asia (MoA) Arena in Pasay City. Thousands gathered along his route and both inside and outside the MoA Arena to listen to what he had to say.
Inside the MoA Arena, Pope Francis heard testimonies from several Filipino families before addressing everyone with an important message of faith and love. He stressed the importance of praying together as a family, saying, “When you lose this capacity to dream [as a family], you lose this capacity to love.”
After the event, the Pope took to Twitter again and shared a reflection from his most recent event, saying, “The family is the greatest treasure of any country. Let us all work to protect and strengthen this, the cornerstone of society.”
Day 3 – January 17
On his third day in the Philippines, Pope Francis flew out to the city of Tacloban in the province of Leyte for the day. This is where Typhoon Yolanda, known internationally as Typhoon Haiyan, struck hardest, killing thousands of people and wiping out entire cities and towns in November 2013. To make matters more complicated, Tacloban was under Storm Signal Warning No. 2 due to Typhoon Amang (International known as ‘Mekkhala’). As a result, the pontiff had to wear a yellow poncho over his vestments while celebrating the holy mass at the Tacloban airport and for most of his stay in the city.
Pope Francis had with a homily that was prepared before hand, but he decided to speak from the heart instead when the moment came. “I prefer today to speak in Spanish. I have a translator, a good translator. May I do it?,” he asked the crowd who responded with a “Yes”.
He began his homily by saying that “Jesus is like us” then he revealed to the crowd, “I’d like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you. A little bit late, but I’m here.”
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church then ended his homily, addressing the people saying, “And holding onto her mantle and with the power that comes from Jesus’ love on the cross, let us move forward and walk together as brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
Afterwards, Pope Francis had lunch with survivors of Typhoon Yolanda at the Palo Archbishop’s residence then blessed the Center for the Poor.
Unfortunately, the Santo Papa’s visit was cut short due to the intensifying storm which would have made it difficult to fly out at the originally scheduled departure time of 5 pm. Pope Francis flew out of Tacloban and back to Manila at 1 pm.
Upon his return to the Papal Nunciature, Pope Francis sent out another set of tweets, one in English and Filipino once again, that read, “The com-passion of God, his suffering-with-us, gives meaning and worth to our struggles and our sufferings.”
Day 4 – January 18
For his last full day in the Philippines, the public was invited to join Pope Francis in two major public events: The Meeting with the Youth at the University of Santo Tomas in the morning and the concluding mass at the Quirino Grandstand.
After listening four young people give their testimonies about the issues of the youth today, Pope Francis took his turn to speak to the audience at the Pontifical and Royal university. He chose to speak in Spanish once more, ignoring his prepared speech once more and instead choosing to answer the questions posed by the youth straight from his heart.
One of the highlights of the pontiff’s allocution was when he said, “Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears.” This was in response to the speech of 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar who was the only girl out of the four speakers. Pope Francis then quipped, “So when the next Pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.”
He also discussed challenges that the youth face including climate change and the approach one must take with the poor. He closed by sharing a line that has now become iconic, “The reality that you have is superior to the paper I have in front of me. Thank you very much. Pray for me!”
After his moving speech at UST, Pope Francis tweeted out in both English and Filipino, “We who are Christians, members of God’s family, are called to go out to the needy and to serve them.”
Later that day, it was time for the Pope’s much-anticipated celebration of the holy mass at the Quirino Grandstand. Thousands of pilgirms came hours in advanced–some were even a whole day early–just to get a good spot for his concluding mass.
The last Papal Visit to the Philippines was in 1995 when Saint Pope John Paul II came for World Youth Day. To close the said event, the holy mass was held, also at the Quirino Grandstand, where four million people were said to have been in attendance. Twenty years later, Pope Francis’ concluding mass broke the attendance record as six million people were reportedly present.
Before the end of the mass, both Bishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, thanked Pope Francis in front of the millions in attendance.
Tagle, who has a well-documented friendship with the Pope, closed his message strongly, “Before you go, Holy Father, send us, your beloved Filipinos, to spread the light of Jesus, and wherever you see the light of Jesus shining, even in Rome, even in Santa Marta, remember: the Filipino people are with you in spreading the light of Jesus.”
After the historic mass, Pope Francis would tweet again in both English and Filipino upon returning to the Papal Nunciature. He shared to his followers a message saying, “How often we forget to dedicate ourselves to that which truly matters! We forget that we are children of God.”
Day 5 – January 19
The morning of the 19th of January marked the end of his Holiness Pope Francis’ historical five-day visit. For the last time, crowds of Filipinos lined the streets leading from the Apostolic Nunciature all the way to Villamor Air Base just to get a glimpse of the Holy Father.
Pope Francis blessed the faithful for one final time before boarding his plane and departing for Rome.
While on his flight back to Rome, Italy, a reflective Pope Francis tweeted, “To my friends in Sri Lanka and the Philippines: May God bless you all! Please pray for me.”
Pope Francis’ apostolic visit was truly an event of monumental scale, and tweets, posts, and photos can only partially capture the impact that the Holy Father has made on our country. There is no doubt, however, that the words and blessings given by the pontiff over these past five days will be remembered by the faithful for many decades to come.