Pulsating welcome for Pope Francis

Ready for Pope Duty officers and men of the armed Forces of the Philippines pray during the mustering of troops for the joint Task Force Pope in Camp aguinaldo in Quezon City as the military starts to implement security operations to secure Pope Francis. Photo by Miguel de Guzman

Ready for Pope Duty officers and men of the armed Forces of the Philippines pray during the mustering of troops for the joint Task Force Pope in Camp aguinaldo in Quezon City as the military starts to implement security operations to secure Pope Francis. Photo by Miguel de Guzman

Pontiff may draw bigger crowd than Pope John Paul II

Pope Francis will immerse himself in some of Asia’s most fervent Catholicism during a trip to the Philippines and Sri Lanka starting Tuesday, with millions of devotees set to turn out.

The Argentinian pontiff with a man-of-the-people reputation could attract one of the biggest gatherings ever for a pope during an open-air Mass in the Philippine capital of Manila.

The January 18 event may draw up to six million people, offering a pulsating example of Asia’s status as a dynamic growth region for the Catholic Church—but also creating a security nightmare.

The pope’s trip, which begins in Sri Lanka, comes just five months after he visited South Korea, signaling the huge importance the Vatican places on Asia and its potential for more followers.

“This second trip to Asia . . . is a message in itself for this great continent. It is necessary to have the pope return to this important part of the world,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said as the 78-year-old pontiff prepared for the week-long visit.

In Sri Lanka, the pope will preach reconciliation as the majority Buddhist nation of 20 million people continues to endure ethnic conflict after the end in 2009 of nearly four decades of civil war that pitted separatist Tamils against Sinhalese.

During his two-night stay, the pope will visit a church that sheltered refugees from across the religious and ethnic divide during the civil war, and which has a 450-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary.

The centerpiece of the visit will be a public Mass on the sea front in the capital of Colombo, which is expected to attract one million Catholics and followers of other religions.

Sri Lanka has a sizeable Catholic minority of about 1.5 million—but it is when Francis reaches the Philippines on Thursday that he can expect to feel the most vibrant and colorful forces of the region’s Catholic faith.

The Philippines is one of the Church’s modern success stories, counting roughly 80 percent of the former Spanish colony’s 100 million people as Catholics, which has helped to offset waning influence in Europe and the United States.

Anticipation has been building for months ahead of his trip—the fourth papal visit to the Philippines—with the pope dominating the media, billboards and sparking a merchandise frenzy.

“I’m excited, because this pope’s focus is on the poor,” said human resources manager Renita Terciano, 50, who has booked hotel rooms near the Manila papal Mass park venue for her family so they can attend the event.

If the crowd is as big as expected, it could surpass the estimated five million people who turned up for a Mass by Pope John Paul II at the same venue in 1995. That event is regarded as the biggest ever gathering to see a pontiff.

Church officials say the pope’s visit is also a “mercy and compassion” trip to meet survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda, which claimed 7,350 lives when it destroyed entire farming and fishing communities in poor areas of central Philippines in 2013.

The pope will spend Saturday in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities, and nearby areas. He is due to give a Mass to tens of thousands of typhoon survivors at Tacloban airport, and have a private lunch with a small group of others.

Erlinda Suyom, 30, who lost her two children and her home near Tacloban to tsunami-like waves, said she would dearly love to meet the pope.

“I would like to ask for his guidance. I also want to tell him to ask God to ensure that my son and daughter are happy in heaven,” Suyom told Agence France-Presse.

Security will be a major issue throughout the pontiff’s Asia trip, but Philippine Church officials have said he will not travel in a bulletproof “popemobile” because he wants to be closer to his flock.

Philippine authorities have said they are deploying nearly 40,000 security personnel in one of the nation’s biggest ever security operations.

“We are doing everything humanly possible to secure the safety of the pope,” Malacañang spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters, while stressing authorities had not detected any specific threat.



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  1. Bakit kaya sa Europe at United states ay kaunti na ang naniniwala sa pope?
    Ngayon narito ang mga taong masasabi mong matatalino at malaking ang pang-unawa sa lahat at totoong makadios-at dito mismo nagmula ang religion na pinaniniwalaan ng mga pilipino! Anong dahilan at bigla na lamang naglaho!
    Maraming magagalit kapag nag-isip ka nakaya nakapocos ang pope sa lugar ng Asia at latin America dahil ito ang maasahan nila namakakapagpanatili ng kanilang power!
    Bakit kaya nagiging ati-katoliko kung nagbibigay ka ng ganitong opinion?
    Malayo ba ito sa katotohanan!
    Ang European at America’n ay masamang tao dahil ayaw na nila sa religion ito?

    • Baka po pwedeng pag-aralan niyo muna ang kasaysayan. Hindi po nanggaling ang Katolisismo — gayundin ang Papa — sa Europa at America. Ang unang santo papa, si San Pedro, ay nanggaling muna sa Gitnang Silangan bago napadpad at naging Obispo ng Roma (Papa). Ang Katolisismo ay itinatag ni Jesus sa Caesarea Philippi sa Gitnang Silangan at ipinalaganap ng mga apostol sa iba’t ibang dako…

      Kaya bibisita si Papa Francisco ay hindi upang magkamal ng kapangyarihan. Malinaw na malinaw naman sa kanyang mga pananalita at maging sa gawa na ang pakay niya ay palakasin ang kalooban at patatagin ang pananampalataya ng mga Pilipino.

      Sa palagay ko naman po ay hindi kayo “ati-katoliko.” Maaaring hindi lang po talaga kayo Katoliko at naghahanap lang ng kasagutan sa inyong mga katanungan.