POPE Francis will arrive to a tumultuous welcome as adoring Filipinos open their hearts to the pontiff who will start his four-day state and apostolic visit to the Philippines today.
Millions of Filipinos will follow the Holy Father’s every move and throngs are expected to turn up in all venues that he will visit.
Church officials said at least six million Catholics will attend the Mass of the Holy Father at Rizal Park (Luneta in Manila) on Sunday, January 18. Thousands will also troop to the University of Santo Tomas (UST), also in Manila, where Francis will meet with religious and young leaders in the morning of the same day.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged Filipinos to line the streets and welcome the visitor from the Vatican “with open arms, minds and hearts.”
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the papal visit should be the most loving event in Metro Manila and in Tacloban City, capital of Leyte province.
“I am calling on the people of God to welcome Pope Francis with all our hearts, with all our minds and with wide open arms,” Villegas called out in a statement on Wednesday.
Also chairman of the papal visit committee, he asked the public to bring images of saints when they cheer the pontiff on the streets.
“I encourage you my dear people of God to line the streets he [Pope Francis] will take, watch the papal vehicle pass by and be blessed by the sight of the pope passing our way going around the city,” Villegas said.
“Bring out your family images of the saints and the Blessed Virgin. Bring out your Santo Ninos (Child Jesus images) and crucifixes. Bring out your hearts in welcome!” he added.
Francis, also head of state of the Vatican, will be welcomed by thousands of young Filipinos who will sing and dance for him.
From Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila), he will proceed to the Apostolic Nunciature, his official residence for the duration of his visit, on Taft Avenue in Manila.
Villegas said the pontiff will be taking Newport Garden to Andrews Avenue toward Airport Road-Domestic Road to Roxas Boulevard-Quirino Avenue-Leveriza intersection until Taft Avenue.
Christ passing by
“Every step he makes, every car ride he takes, every moment he stays with us is precious for us. Seeing him pass by is a grace. Waving our hands at him in loving welcome is an experience of a lifetime,” Villegas said.
“Watch the Pope passing by. Christ is passing by. Be blessed as he passes by,” he added.
On January 16, Pope Francis will meet with President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Malacañang.
The pope will visit the country as head of state and as lead pastor of the Catholic Church.
“In the afternoon of January 16, please watch the pope pass Taft Avenue to Leveriza intersection-Quirino Avenue to Roxas Boulevard until the Mall of Asia where he will meet with families,” Villegas said.
On Saturday, January 17, Pope Francis will visit Leyte province to personally console survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda and earthquake victims from Bohol province.
In the morning of January 18, the pontiff will go to UST to rally with the youth and meet with the religious leaders.
He will be passing Quirino-Osmena Highway intersection toward Nagtahan until Espana Boulevard on his way to the university, the only Roman Catholic seat of learning in Asia.
“He will take the reverse route from UST back to the Apostolic Nunciature. Watch him pass by twice that day if you live in the area,” Villegas said.
“In the afternoon on his way to Luneta, the pope will pass Quirino Avenue, Roxas Boulevard until he reaches Kalaw Street,” he added.
Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed hope that the Pope’s arrival will fill every Filipino “with a sense of goodwill and unity.”
“I hope that we as a nation will heed the Pope’s call for renewing our commitment to the universal values of love and compassion especially for the poor and downtrodden.
To my fellow workers in government, may we be inspired to provide selfless service to our people, no matter our own circumstances, without thought of reward. We must devote our time, talents, energy and resources to truly serving the people, particularly those who most need our help,” Binay said.
“To all Filipinos, it is my hope that we will be inspired by the living example of the Pope who has willingly connected with the people to get across Christ’s message of love and charity,” he added.
Until late Wednesday, Malacanang was anxious over security preparations for the papal visit.
Its spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd noted “minute” loopholes as they conducted last-minute run-throughs in areas where the pontiff will be present, including the Apostolic Nunciature.
“Today is always a day better than the previous days’ preparations. So, it’s always a work in progress and as the President always says you know, ‘We will never be satisfied,’ “ Lacierda added.
The Palace official said the challenge of securing Pope Francis is made even more challenging because the pontiff “is full of surprises.”
Francis is known for “deviating” from his pre-planned route to mingle with people around him.
“So, we try to keep on improving the security preparations everyday. And making sure that we’ve done our best, we’ve done everything humanly possible to ensure the security of the pope as well as the crowd,” Lacierda said.
To better manage the crowd, according to him, the people will be grouped in “grids” or “mini quadrants” that will be separated by vacant spaces. This means that the crowd at the Quirino Grandstand, for instance, will look like a gigantic chessboard from the air.
Each grid will be manned by eight police personnel, 400 military reservists, eight to 10 personnel from the Department of Health, eight to 10 Red Cross volunteers and two marshals.