Filipinos open their homes to compatriots
ROME—Thousands of Filipinos are descending on Rome for the joint canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday, joining millions of other pilgrims eager to see two of the 20th century’s most popular Pontiffs made saints and held up for veneration by Catholics.
Missing out on hotel accommodations, the Filipino pilgrims have found hospitality in the homes of Filipino expatriates in Rome.
Organizers expect 7 million people to witness the double canonization.
A prayer vigil will be held in about a dozen churches in Rome before Sunday in order to accommodate all the pilgrims.
The pilgrims’ traffic may have increased because of anticipation that the two popular leaders of the Church, already beatified in 2000 (John XXIII) and 2011 (John Paul II), would be canonized by two Pontiffs—Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
But Vatican officials said they could not confirm if Benedict, who resigned last year due to old age, would attend.
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said Benedict had been invited, but it remained to be seen whether he would attend because of his frail condition.
Although he has said he will live a life of prayer and seclusion in St. Martha’s House on the Vatican grounds, Benedict has been asked by Francis to join him in key celebrations, as the retired Pope “still has much to contribute to the Church.”
Benedict has largely obliged, joining Francis in the consistory in February that raised 19 archbishops, including Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, the Philippines, to cardinals.
Monsignor Liberio Andreatta, head of the Vatican pilgrim agency Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, said he was hopeful the former Pope would attend the canonization.
“Never before have there been two Popes canonized [at the same time] and two Popes living,” he said. “You can imagine [the people’s] emotions.”
In addition to pilgrims coming on scheduled flights, organizers said pilgrims are arriving in 58 chartered planes from various parts of the world for the canonization.
Hundreds of busloads of pilgrims will also arrive, and there will be road signs in English, Polish, French and Italian to help them around town, organizers said.
“Many more are expected,” said Maurizio Pucci, director of special events planning for the city of Rome. “Our concerns have included arranging parking spaces for this unknown number of buses.”
Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Mercy Tuason could not give a ballpark figure for the number of Filipinos coming, but she said many hotels had reported full bookings.
Filipinos who have not gotten hotel accommodations have been received into the homes of Rome-based Filipinos, said Fr. Gaspar Sigaya, the Filipino archivist of the Dominican curia in Santa Sabina on Aventine Hill.
The Filipino expatriate community in Rome is very active and organized, Sigaya said.
Marco Piscitello, a spokesperson for the Roman hotel owners’ association, Federalberghi, said hoteliers had expected the pilgrims rush. And among those filling the hotels are pilgrims from Poland, Pope John Paul II’s homeland, Sigaya said.
The coming of Polish pilgrims in the tens of thousands is not surprising, as John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope in several centuries, is considered a national hero in Poland, he said.
Sigaya said the Santa Sabina priory was full of Polish Dominicans coming for the canonization. They will lead a thanksgiving Mass on Monday at Santa Sabina, one of the most ancient basilicas and most beautiful in Rome.
Sigaya said the Santa Sabina Dominicans hold both John XXIII and John Paul II in high regard because the two Popes had continued the traditional stational visit to the basilica on Ash Wednesday to put ash on the forehead of Catholics.
Latin Americans have also been coming in droves to attend the canonization. Buon Pastore, the generalate of the Good Shepherd Sisters, has many Latin American pilgrims as well as Filipinos as guests.
24 heads of state
Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said there would be 90 official delegations from various countries, and 24 heads of state would attend the prayer vigil, which would be held in at least 11 churches in the city.
The canonization ceremony will have 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops concelebrating the Mass with Pope Francis, Lombardi said. All of the official delegations and the 24 heads of state will attend the Mass, he said.
Also attending the canonization ceremony are representatives of the major non-Catholic Christian religions, such as the Orthodox and Anglican churches, as well as representatives of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, Lombardi said.
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