LOUD cheers, tears of joy and the pealing of Church bells greeted Pope Francis and his entourage as soon as his plane touched down on Runway 06 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at 5:36 p.m. on Thursday.
Emotions ran high when Shepherd One, the name given to the Sri Lankan plane that carried the pontiff, became visible from afar. It was the only aircraft allowed to fly and land at the NAIA 30 minutes prior to the pope’s arrival.
The Sri Lanka A340 aircraft settled on the tarmac of Villamor Air Base, where President Benigno Aquino 3rd and officials of the Cabinet and the Catholic Church were waiting to officially welcome the pontiff and other Vatican officials, marking Day 1 of the Catholic leader’s five-day state and pastoral visit to the Philippines.
“Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, brings to our nation the glad tidings of faith, hope and love. Mercy and compassion are essential elements of our caring and sharing ethos. These are the values that underpin our long-term development program for achieving inclusive growth—a lofty goal that President Aquino seeks to attain during his watch,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement shortly before Francis’ arrival.
“In solidarity with the Filipino people, we extend to His Holiness Pope Francis our warmest welcome. Mabuhay [Long Live]!” the Palace official added.
Seconds after he stepped off the plane, the wind blew away the pontiff’s skull cap and, a few steps down the air stairs, his mantle was also struck by a gust, landing on his face briefly.
It was not immediately known if the skull cap was recovered and given back to the state visitor.
Aquino welcomed the Holy Father at the foot of the stairs and engaged him in a short conversation while waiting for the rest of the delegation to disembark.
Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, the Papal Nuncio, was a few steps behind the pope as they awaited all the 31 members of the entourage.
One thousand students greeted the pontiff.
Aquino and the pope immediately proceeded to the ceremonial dais for the playing of the National Anthems of the Philippines and the Vatican.
The two leaders were guided to the red carpet to review the Honor Guards toward two children—aged nine and 10—who offered a bouquet of flowers to the head of the Vatican.
The Pope was then introduced by Aquino to the 12 members of the Cabinet and to the Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See.
The officials included Vice President Jejomar Binay, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
Local Catholic officials who welcomed the Holy Father included Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato; Antonio Ledesma S.J., Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro; Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao; Sofronio Bancud, S.S.S, Bishop of Cabanatuan; Rodolfo Beltran, Bishop of San Fernando De La Union; Jose Cabantan, Bishop of Malaybalay; Bernardino Cortez, Prelate of Infanta; Gilbert Garcera, Bishop of Daet; Angelito Lampon, O.M. Vicar Apostolic of Jolo; Emilio Marquez, Bishop of Lucena; Most Rev. Jesse Mercado; and Marvin Mejia, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Pope Francis then introduced the members of his entourage to the President.
After that, both leaders were introduced to members of the Presidium of the CBCP by Dr. Alberto Gasbarri, the Vatican Chief Organizer of the Papal Visit.
The chief of Presidential Protocol escorted the two leaders to the air base’s Kalayaan Lounge, while the rest of the Papal Visit delegation were led to their assigned vehicles.
Around 6:30 p.m., Aquino led Francis to the Popemobile at the driveway of the Kalayaan Hall to begin the motorcade to the Papal Nunciature on Taft Avenue in Manila.
The papal convoy passed through Gate 5 and rode along airport road en route to Roxas Boulevard.
Thousands of people thronged the roads leading to the Nunciature, his temporary official residence in the country. They greeted the pope with cheers such as “I love Pope Francis” and “Viva il Papa [Long Live the Pope].”
People from all walks of life and faiths began lining up the papal route past noon onThursday to get a better glimpse of the prelate, who is known for deviating from protocol and unceremoniously mingling with the crowd anywhere he went.
Many donned shirts bearing the image and name of the pontiff while Philippine flags flew alongside the Vatican’s official banner along the entire stretch of the papal motorcade.
In some areas, policemen had to act as human barriers after some people cut through the concrete and metal barriers, hoping to get near the Popemobile.
The pope will be in Malacanang on Friday to meet with Aquino for his official state visit. On Saturday, the prelate will fly to Tacloban City, Leyte, for his pastoral visit, where he will meet some victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the city the hardest in December 2013.