Unknown to many Filipino Catholics, soon-to-be Saint John Paul II visited the Philippines thrice—an indication of his special love for the Filipinos.
His first visit was as a young priest many years ago when the future pope and saint was then known as Fr. Karol Wojtyla, according to Weng Dijamo, an employee at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Baclaran, Paranaque City, Metro Manila, in a phone interview with this writer on Friday.
Blessed John Paul II, together with Blessed John XXIII, will be canonized by Pope Francis during an elaborate ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday.
The canonization rites will be beamed live via satellite on television and radio EWTN and local radio/TV stations.
Dijamo recalled that the first visit of Fr. Wojtyla to Manila years back was when the plane he was riding in during a swing to Asian countries made a stopover at the old Manila International Airport (now Ninoy Aquino International Airport).
She said that when then Fr. Wojtyla was told that the plane would be staying at the airport for some hours before taking off again, the future pope inquired where the nearest church was located so he could celebrate a Mass.
“Since it was already late in the evening, all the Catholic churches near the airport were closed, except the Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran,” Dijamo said.
Fr. Wojtyla immediately proceeded to Baclaran where he officiated a Mass. At that time, nobody had any inkling that someday, Fr. Wojtyla would become pope.
His second visit to the Philippines took place when he was already Pope John Paul II in 1981.
It was the second time that a pontiff had visited the Philippines, the first being Pope Paul VI in November 1970.
Filipinos were agog over Pope John Paul II’s visit. They said that they could feel the Pope’s aura of holiness when they saw him, far or near.
This was attested to by Fr. Aris Sison during an interview with popular radio-TV anchor Mike Enriquez on Friday.
Fr. Sison said he too had felt the same aura of holiness when the Pope shook his hand during the latter’s visit in 1981 and later in 1995.
He said many described John Paul’s aura as “heroic virtue.”
When Pope John Paul II was alive, his motto was “Tutus Tuus” (I am all Yours. To God I
offer all my life).
In 1995, Pope John Paul II again visited the Philippines to attend the World Youth Day celebration in Manila.
The Pope’s third visit to Manila would have shocked the world in the magnitude of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States had not authorities nipped in the bud a plot to assassinate his Holiness.
During a discreet intelligence operation, authorities arrested Abdulhakim Alihashim Murad at an apartment on Quirino Avenue in Manila—just 150 meters from the Papal Nunciature—on January 15, 1995.
Recovered from the apartment were a laptop computer, a map of the Pope’s itinerary, and photographs of John Paul II.
The plot to assassinate the Pope was discovered when firemen were summoned to the apartment in response to reports of smoke billowing from the windows.
The firefighters called the police who found smoldering chemicals in the empty apartment.
During the entire intelligence operations, then President Fidel Ramos was given an up-to-the-minute report to ensure that everything was under control.
Except for that incident, the 1995 World Youth Day proceeded with great success.
During the Mass held at Manila’s Rizal Park, some five million people from various faiths attended. It was dubbed as the world’s largest gathering of people in one occasion.
In fact, Pope John Paul II had to take a helicopter in going to the Rizal Park because his convoy could not pass through the millions of people attending the religious rites.