Filipinos did not fall short of giving Pope Francis a warm welcome upon his arrival in the country last January 15. The head of the Catholic Church was in the Philippines until January 19 for a pastoral and state visit. His itinerary included meetings with families and youth groups, Eucharistic celebrations, and a day trip to Tacloban, Leyte to pay a visit to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda which hit 14 months ago.
As early as a day before the arrival of the Pope, De La Salle University (DLSU) suspended its classes in anticipation of the road closures along Taft Avenue. The Apostolic Nunciature, Pope Francis’ official residence during his five-day visit, is located across the Manila campus and a few meters from the Quirino LRT station. For security purposes, the Philippine National Police and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority had to cordon off the stretch from Quirino Avenue and Dagohoy Street. Hundreds of Catholic Church adherents camped out along Taft Avenue as early as dawn of the Pope’s scheduled arrival just to catch a glimpse of him and his convoy.
First smiles last
The airplane that carried the Holy See from his state visit in Sri Lanka to Manila arrived in Villamor Air Base 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. It took a while before Pope Francis alighted the airplane, but local media outfits were able to capture the Pope smiling, seemingly excited to set foot in the Philippines.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and his cabinet members, along with the Papal Nuncio, Hon. Mercedes Tuason – the Philippine ambassador to the Holy See,-officially welcomed Pope Francis. Students from the archdiocese of Paranaque also prepared song and dance performances for the Pope.
A thick crowd was already waiting to get a glimpse of the Pope along Andrews Ave., where the Pope mobile passed through shortly after leaving the Villamor Airbase. Other believers anticipated the Pope’s arrival by waiting along the route where the Pope’s motorcade was designated to pass. A total of 37,500 police officers and military personnel were deployed to ensure his safety.
Pope Francis celebrates first mass
Pope Francis’ second day in the country started with a courtesy call to President Aquino in Malacanang Palace. Again, thousands of Filipinos gathered in the streets along the route that the papal mobile was designated to pass. Despite opting to ride a Volkswagen Touran on his way to the Palace, Pope Francis still rolled down the car’s windows to greet the crowd.
The Holy See was welcomed by President Aquino and more than 200 government employees and their families. Pope Francis signed the Palace’s guest book and the two heads of state proceeded to discuss bilateral concerns in private. Both leaders delivered their respective speeches in front of cabinet officials, government employees, and other delegates. Afterwards, Pope Francis left for Manila Cathedral, where he celebrated his first mass in the country,shortly after the speeches.
Manila Archbishop and Pope Francis’ good friend, his Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, welcomed the Holy See upon his arrival in the Manila Cathedral. The Eucharistic celebration’s homily centered on fighting social injustices and solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis addressed more than 2,000 bishops, priests, nuns, and members of the laity.
After the mass, the Pope surprised everyone by making a short trip to Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation, a center devoted in doting for street children, located near the cathedral. He blessed the estimated 320 children in the center before returning to the Nunciature for lunch. Pope Francis then made his way to the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena, where he met with Catholic families. DLSU sent a delegation of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to greet the Pope along EDSA extension, where the Papal mobile was supposed to pass en route to the arena from Manila Cathedral
Guided by some of the University’s Security and Safety officers, the delegation walked from the Henry Sy, Sr. Hall to Blue Wave along EDSA extension. The security personnel ensured the safety of the delegation, since not all roads to MOA was closed to vehicles. Hundreds of Lasallian representatives joined the delegation.
At around 5 pm, nearly three hours after the DLSU contingent arrived at Blue Wave, the Pope passed by the crowd. Some members of the Lasallian delegation returned to Taft Avenue to greet the Pope as he returned to the Apostolic Nunciature after his meeting with families. Pope Francis’ met with indigenous families, Christian organizations, priest hopefuls, the sick and the elderly. Afterwards, the Pope blessed all attendees of the meeting.
The highlight of the Papal Visit was Pope Francis’ stopover in Tacloban, Leyte. Despite the heavy rain, locals still braved the downpour just to welcome the Pope. Pope Francis emerged in a yellow “kapote” while traversing the roads of Tacloban in his Popemobile. Although the trip had to be cut short due to the weather, Pope Francis delivered a touching homily to the crowd.
In his homily, Pope Francis tried to uplift the spirits of the victims of typhoon Yolanda. He shared that he instinctively wanted to visit the province right after finding out the devastation caused by the deadly typhoon. Although a little late, Pope Francis ensured that he will be able to consummate his plan by allotting a day in Tacloban during his five-day Papal visit.
Unfortunately, a relief worker and volunteer died when the scaffolding, which housed the sound system used for the Pope’s Eucharistic celebration collapsed. Kristel Padasas was unable to survive the accident. Pope Francis immediately reached out to the father of Padasas and consoled his loss, meeting with him on the following day and devoting a part of his allocution at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to her.
Greeted by six million
On the last full day of visit in the Philippines, Pope Francis met with youth groups at UST. Many Lasallians still went out to the streets to greet the Pope mobile, while other members of the Lasallian community made their way to Quirino Grandstand for the Pope’s last Eucharistic celebration.
Over six million Filipinos attended the mass presided by Pope Francis. The Pope touched on the role of children in society, using the Sto Nino as an illustration in his homily. Two street children, a current UST student, and an alumnus were asked to share their experiences as young members of society in front of the Pope.
On January 19, Pope Francis left the country via a specially chartered Philippine Airline flight to Rome, Italy. Before reaching the tarmac of the Villamor Airbase, the Pope took time to bless three children waiting near the airbase’s gates. The charismatic leader of the Catholic Church carried his own briefcase on his way up to the airplane.
Pope Francis is the third Holy See to visit the Philippines. It was in 1995 when the late Saint Pope John Paul II last visited the country. Many are hopeful that Pope Francis will return to the country to attend the 51st International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Cebu on January 2016.