The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has released a simple and dignified program for Pope Francis’s four-day apostolic visit to the Philippines.
The Pope is coming to express his solidarity with the poor and victims of recent calamities; he will bring his message of “mercy and compassion” to at least eleven venues, the announcement said.
The Pope arrives past five in the afternoon of Jan. 15 from Sri Lanka, the first leg of his Asian visit. He is welcomed by state officials and the highest officials of the Catholic hierarchy, and receives appropriate honors at the Ninoy Aquino international airport, then motors to the Apostolic Nunciature in Pasay, where he will stay during his visit.
The following morning, he will be officially welcomed by President B. S. Aquino 3rd at Malacanang. He will also meet members of the diplomatic corps and other Philippine officials.
Then he proceeds to the Manila Cathedral for Mass with bishops, priests and women and men religious. Later, he will have an encounter with families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
On Jan. 17, he flies to Leyte to visit the Archdiocese of Palo. He will offer Mass near Tacloban airport, then motor to Palo, to have lunch with the poor and survivors of the 2013 super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan at the Archbishop’s residence. After lunch, he will bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo and meet with priests and women and men religious at the Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration. Then he flies back to Manila.
On Jan. 18, he will meet religious leaders and young people at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in the morning, and in the afternoon celebrate his concluding Mass at Rizal Park. The next day he flies back to Rome.
The third pope
Francis will be the third pope to visit the Philippines.
The first pope, Blessed Paul VI, came in 1970. He was the pope that brought to a successful conclusion the Second Vatican Council which was convoked by Pope Saint John XXIII. He also penned the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which prophesied a grave decay in morality if men and women ignored the Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, the family and marriage. He suffered a minor injury when he was attacked by Benjamin Mendoza, a Bolivian painter disguised as a priest, upon his arrival at the Manila international airport. He died at Castel Gandolfo in 1978, and was beatified by Pope Francis in Rome last October, at the end of the two- week extraordinary synod of bishops.
The second pope, Saint John Paul II, came twice—first for the beatification of St. Lorenzo Ruiz in 1981, and for the World Youth Day in 1995. He died in Rome in 2005, after serving 27 years as pope. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, and canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2014. He has been called the “Pope of the Family.” Before the biggest human assembly ever seen on the planet, he described the Philippines as “the light of Asia and the world.”
The last truly Catholic country
The papal visit is most important to Filipinos, who constitute what may be called the last truly Catholic nation in the world. At least 85 percent of its 100 million people are Catholic. By 2021, Filipinos would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. It is the only country, after the Vatican, that continues to resist vigorously the sustained global attack on Catholic values on human life, the family and marriage.
The cause suffered its first major setback when Aquino railroaded the anti-Catholic and unconstitutional Reproductive Health Law after he met with US President Barack Obama and received a $454 million grant from the Millennium Challenge Fund. But his has not diminished the fervor with which Filipino Catholics continue to defend the same values.
A pope for non-Catholics too
Popular enthusiasm about the Pope’s apostolic visit is shared deeply even among non-Catholics. They are such great admirers of the Pope that their text messages habitually reproduce his latest quotes. Whatever their religious differences, they are deeply enamored of the man; his personal humility and simplicity seem to project to them a “casual pontificate.”
Francis’s unique turn of phrase, exemplified by such statements as “don’t talk too much about gays,” and “who am I to judge?” has made him the darling of the secular media, which are ever in search of a sound bite to suggest an imagined loosening of Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy–in favor of “same-sex marriage.”
ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest television network, which does not suffer from any lack of gay influence, earlier tried to exploit this situation by printing T-shirts, proclaiming “No race, no religion,” and “Who am I to judge?” for use during the visit.
CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas quickly intervened and had the material pulled out. But this has not quelled the efforts of certain groups to exploit the papal visit for their own ends.
Almost everyone would like to see the Pope up close. This is most understandable, for most Catholics are born and die without ever getting to see a pope at close range.
The Holy Mass, celebrated by a priest, any priest, is the center and summit of the Catholic Christian life, and, for Catholics, the most important thing that happens in the world. But celebrating Mass with the Pope, or being able to touch the Pope, is an unrepeatable human experience.
How to allow as many people as possible to get close to Pope Francis then is something the CBCP must facilitate. At the same time, it should try to keep at bay those who will want to get close to the Pope just to be seen by others as being close.
This happens all the time in all places.
Meeting with Aquino
One detail that invites curiosity is the Pope’s scheduled meeting with our dear President. What will they talk about? Our beloved PNoy is a baptized Catholic who lists a Jesuit theologian as his “spiritual adviser.” But we might be committing perjury or slander if we accused him of being a practicing Catholic.
One of his first acts as president was to shut down the Malacanang chapel where his late president-mother used to hear Mass, and which even her Protestant successor, Fidel V. Ramos, had left untouched. He is seen attending Mass on certain occasions, but he usually manages to slip out at some point to smoke or chat. But, most important of all, he paid off the members of Congress to force the enactment of the anti-Catholic and unconstitutional RH Law, which puts the State in charge of the conjugal lives of Filipinos.
Although as Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the Pope had no difficulty dealing with Agentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who pursued anti-Catholic family policies, he may have to be forewarned about the possibility that our wily PNoy might be talking to him under false pretenses.
Prayer for the Pope
In the last few months, the Filipino faithful have been praying, at the end of every Mass, that they “may be faithful to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth;” that they “may be eager to meet and listen to Pope Francis;” that they may “be compassionate with the poor and the needy;” that they “may be merciful with the weak and the lost;” that they “may humbly confess their sins and return to God;” and that they may “frequently and devoutly receive Holy Communion.”
Recently, this prayer was revised to include petitions related to the Pope’s personal safety.
Since then the faithful have been praying that “the papal visit may be safe from all harm and free from all evil;” that “we may always maintain a sense of order, discipline and charity during the papal visit;” and that “the Pope may arrive safely back in Rome after his apostolic journey.”
This is the clearest proof that the Pope’s safety cannot be taken for granted. There are abundant reasons for this. Although at the time the public never suspected it, Blessed Paul VI suffered a minor injury during the failed assassination attempt against him at the airport, and there were threats during Saint John Paul II’s visit in 1995, which President Ramos himself had to personally deal with in order to neutralize. There was no murderous Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) at the time, but now there is. We cannot afford to take any risks.
Prayer for the country
Yet, while praying for the Pope’s security and wellbeing, many of our countrymen feel we should also be praying that the papal visit help liberate our people from their present bondage. Accordingly, the National Transformation Council intends to meet in Lipa City tomorrow to launch, among other things, a national prayer, which they would ask Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic communities to pray until the Pope comes. This is the proposed prayer:
Almighty Father, as we await the apostolic visit of Pope Francis,
we come to you on bended knees.
Look upon us as we seek your protection and help,
And make us strong in our faith.
You said, “you shall be my people and I will be your God.”
Never let us stray from that covenant.
Deliver us from our own weaknesses
And from the wiles of tyrants and false gods.
They have defiled your temples, scorned your laws,
and sought to impose their will upon us.
Let us not suffer our God to be so mocked,
Nor evil to rule our lives.
Transform our nation in your boundless love.
But transform us, your people, first
so that we may serve you in everything we do,
and bear God’s goodness in the spirit and the flesh.
Help us never to falter, but to stand for truth, justice and peace,
And to bear injustice with courage.
But comfort us in our hurt, as you did our brothers of old
whom you led out of bondage.
Break the tyrant’s grip upon our basic rights
and crush it like an earthen pot so that we may freely breathe again
the everlasting spirit and love of God.