As the third largest Catholic country in the world—with over 80 percent of Filipinos belonging to the faith—the Philippines is undoubtedly an important part of the global Catholic Church. As such, this island nation has always held a special place for the Holy See in the Vatican, as well as in the eyes of Christians worldwide.
As the first Southeast Asian country to be visited by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Paul IV first set foot in the region in the 1970s. He chose the Philippines as his first destination because of its large population of Catholics, and in recognition of the strong Filipino faith.
To this day, as evidenced by strong Christian values that still generally renounces divorce, contraception and abortion, the Vatican considers the Philippines as “a good place to start” (deputy Vatican spokesman Fr. Ciro Benedettini in an interview with Rappler) in its duty to spread the Word of God throughout Asia.
Indeed, the upcoming visit of Pope Francis on January 15 to 19 marks another significant milestone in the spiritual life of Filipino Catholics. With joyful and grateful hearts, the faithful take pride in the fact that the People’s Pope has chosen to visit the Philippines very early on in his papacy. For with this visit, themed “Mercy and Compassion,” the Filipinos feel they are truly loved by the Holy Father, whose “importance is largely derived from his role as the traditional successor to Saint Peter, to whom Jesus gave the keys of Heaven.” (Wikipedia).
“The Pope will listen and he will give them [Filipinos] a word of comfort,” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said during an interview with the Vatican Radio this month, as he explained how the Pontiff has expressed his eagerness to meet with the poor, and give solace to those who have suffered from natural calamities.
When asked what will characterize the visit of the Pope, Tagle said he would certainly have “encounters with a lot of suffering.” Nevertheless, with the resilience of the Filipino people and their unwavering belief in God, the cardinal believes that the Pope’s visit will only strengthen the peoples’ spiritual devotion.
Previous papal visits
The days from November 27 to 29, 1970 marked the first visit of a Roman Catholic pope to the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region. The papal visit was part of then Pope Paul IV’s tour to nine countries including Iran, Samoa, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Australia, and Ceylon.
“The object of our visit to Manila is of the spiritual order; it has an apostolic character. Great would be our joy if by our visit the Catholic people were made firm in their faith and in the sincere and coherent expression of it,” the Holy Father had said to faithful Filipinos.
According to news articles, Pope Paul IV was met with an assassination attempt by a Bolivian painter upon arriving at what was then the Manila International Airport. All the same, the Pontiff continued his itinerary, which included a tour of Nayong Pilipino, a liturgical reception at the Manila Cathedral, and the blessing of Nuestra Senora de Guia in Ermita, the oldest venerated Marian image in the Philippines, all during his first day.
On the second day, the Pope visited the University of Santo Tomas (UST), the only royal and pontifical university in the Philippines, where he addressed over 400,000 students. He then held Mass at the Rizal Park attended by crowds of religious Filipinos.
On the third day he celebrated Mass again at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, before visiting the Catholic station Radio Veritas.
In his radio broadcast, Pope Paul IV said, “Christ is light and truth and life. And we proclaim him to you as he appears to our unshakeable faith. We are obedient to his charge, his command: Go, preach to all nations the good, the happy news, instructing them in my teaching of love and life. This we do, brothers and sisters, with humble love for you, with deep respect for you and for your ancient and venerable traditions.”
He left with a motorcade to meet the poor people of Manila, passing by low-cost housing projects in Pasig and informal settlers in Tondo.
The very charismatic and much loved Pope John Paul II, who was canonized a saint in 2014, visited the Philippines twice during his papacy from 1978 to 2005. He first arrived in the country on February 17, 1981 and stayed for six days.
Just before the papal visit, then President Ferdinand Marcos declared that Martial Law had been “lifted.”
The main purpose of Pope John Paul II’s visit was to beatify the first would-be Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz and other martyrs. He also held a Mass at the Manila Cathedral, visited Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Baclaran, and delivered a message at the Araneta Colesium in Quezon City. Like Pope Paul VI, he also addressed the Filipino youth at UST and the poor in Tondo. He further took time to visit a refugee camp in Morong, Bataan.
The Holy Father then flew to Cebu City to meet local priests and seminarians before heading to Davao City where he held another Eucharistic celebration, and historically met with representatives of the Muslim community.
His second visit from January 12 to 16, 1995 marked the celebration of the 10th World Youth Day. He met with then President Fidel Ramos at Malacañang Palace before holding Mass at UST for 233 delegates of the International Youth Forum.
It was on January 15 that the Pope held Mass at the Quirino Grandstand to close the World Youth Day celebration. He boarded the “Pope Mobile” at the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft Avenue for the Quirino Grandstand was met with huge crowds on the street, and was left with no choice but to take the presidential helicopter to Luneta.
As the beloved Pontiff arrived at the Quirino Grandstand, he was greeted with endless chants of “John Paul 2! We love you!” expressing his love and blessings in return to the Filipino people.
The Eucharistic Celebration, which lasted almost four hours, was attended by an estimated four million people, and is recorded as the biggest gathering during the papacy of Pope John Paul II. (Wikipedia)
According to former CBCP chairman, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Pope John Paul II’s successor Pope Benedict XVI was also invited to visit the Philippines, but had declined due to his busy schedule at the Vatican.
People’s Pope in PH
In just three more days, it will be Pope Francis—whose papacy began in March 2013—who will arrive in the Philippines, following his visit a four-day visit to Sri Lanka.
In his second Asian stop, the Holy Father has expressed his desire to specifically visit the central Philippines, and meet with those who had lost loved ones, their homes and livelihood during the catastrophes of 2013, namely Super Typhoon Yolanda and the earthquakes in Bohol.
The Pope is scheduled to arrive at the Villamor Airbase at 5:45 p.m. on January 15,
On the following morning he will proceed to meet with President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd, along with government officials and the diplomatic corps at Malacanang Palace at 9:15 a.m., before celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Intramuros, Manila at 11:15 a.m.
By 5:30 in the afternoon, Pope Francis will meet with Filipino families at the Mall of Asia Arena.
On January 17, the Holy Father will depart for Tacloban, where he will hold Mass near the International Airport. He will then have lunch at the Archbishop’s Residence in Palo together with survivors of Yolanda.
His next activity is the blessing of the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, where he will meet with priests, religious leaders, seminarians and more survivors at Palo Cathedral, before heading back to Manila in the afternoon.
On Sunday, the Holy Father is scheduled to visit UST and meet with more religious leaders and representatives of the Filipino youth.
Finally, he will lead a Eucharistic celebration at Rizal Park at 3:30 p.m., which is expected to draw millions yet again together in faith.
The Holy Father is scheduled to depart from the Philippines on January 19 at 10 a.m.
For his visit, Pope Francis has reiterated that no lavish preparations or banquets should be hosted on his behalf. As Cardinal Tagle echoed in being one with the poor, “We should be mindful of the many people we need to welcome in our midst on a daily basis: the poor and the hungry. So whatever savings we can make from the papal trip, will go to charity, will go to the poor. And the Pope is very explicit about that.”