THE much-awaited Asian tour and Philippine visit of Pope Francis, now finally unfolding and is being watched by millions of people from all over the world, is both diplomatic and religious in nature.
As the incumbent pope, Francis is the head of state and government of the smallest sovereign country in the world, the Vatican City. That makes his visit a diplomatic function. As elected Supreme Pontiff, he is the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, touted to be one of the world’s largest nonprofit organizations, employing thousands of people and controlling billions of dollars worth of investments and property.
There are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, according to Vatican figures. More than 40 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America. Francis hailed from Argentina,the eighth-largest country in the world and the second largest in Latin America.
The Philippines is approximately 85 percent Christian (mostly Roman Catholic), owing to the 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, which brought along Catholicism. Thus, for many Filipinos who are devout Catholics, Francis is a venerated figure, almost a demigod—a source of hope and inspiration, especially for victims and survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) in Eastern Visayas.
As scheduled, His Holiness will bring his message of “mercy and compassion” to at least 11 different venues in the province of Leyte and Metro Manila during his
Apostolic Visit to the Philippines from January 15 to 19.
According to the official web site on the pope’s visit, http://papalvisit.ph, the Holy Father should have arrived from Sri Lanka, past 5 p.m. on January 15, and will go on a motorcade to his official residence in the Philippines. As we go to the media, on January 16, Francis should be officially welcomed by President Aquino at Malacañan Palace, where he will also meet Philippine authorities and members of the diplomatic corps.
After the Palace reception, Francis will go on a motorcade to the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral) in Intramuros for a Mass with bishops, priests, and women and men religious. Later he will have an encounter with families at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City .
In Leyte province in Eastern Visayas, Francis will visit the Archdiocese of Palo. He will offer Mass near Tacloban Airport in the morning of January 17, and will have lunch with the poor and survivors of natural calamities at the residence of the Archbishop of Palo. Afterward he will bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, and visit the Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration (Palo Cathedral) to meet with priests and women and men religious.
On January 18 the pope will meet religious leaders and young people at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila. In the afternoon, he will go on a motorcade for the Concluding Mass at Quirino Grandstand in Rizal (Luneta) Park.
Francis will leave for Rome on January 19. The Philippines have welcomed popes with such intensity since 1970; the late John Paul II, dubbed the most charismatic pope, visited twice. But Francis’s visit could be bigger with much deeper meaning ,because the country has many painful reasons to look for hope and desperate for a real hero or savior.
Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to his election as Supreme Pontiff on March 13, 2013, following the resignation of Pope Benedict. Although a prominent figure throughout the continent, little has been written and known about him—at least until his appointment as Archbishop of Buenos Aires—his official biography said.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio has remained a simple pastor who is deeply loved by his diocese, throughout which he has traveled extensively on the underground and by bus during the 15 years of his episcopal ministry.
The pontiff’s focus on poverty, inequality and such social ills has resonated well here and abroad. Since his papal ministry, His Holiness has become the spokesman for the oppressed and less privileged.
“My people are poor and I am one of them,” he has said more than once, explaining his decision to live in an apartment and cook his own supper. He has always advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone.
“Pope Francis is hope to those who lost their loved ones, property, livelihood, etc. in Tacloban,” veteran public relations practitioner Neny Regino said.
“All I know is that Pope Francis’s visit is good not only for the victims of the typhoon…I am from Leyte and I feel for my province….words are beyond me to describe what they’ve been through, said Regino, who admits to be lost for words for gratefulness in finding her brother alive who took refuge for days in the ceiling of their old house in Leyte.
“I love the fact that the pope is using social media, too, as a tool to reach out more people. He’s got his own Twitter account, @pontifex,” online publisher and blogger Vance Madrid said.
Madrid, who was then 15 years old during the World Youth Day in 1995, professed to have been touched in the heart by Pope John Paul II. She’s happy to note that Pope Francis “is more active now and he’s the simplest pope in terms of his way of living.”
Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, the son of Italian immigrants. His father Mario was an accountant employed by the railways and his mother Regina Sivori was a committed wife dedicated to raising their five children. He graduated as a chemical technician and then chose the path of the priesthood, entering the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto.
We, the Filipino people, do sincerely hope for a life-changing experience with Francis’s visit.
“We are moved by your humility and inspired by your simple lifestyle and continued pronouncements against social injustice,” Gabriela Women’s Party’s open letter to Francis said in part.
“We pray that you join us in our collective struggle to build a more humane life, free from oppression, violence and injustice,” it said.