Mabuhay, Papa Francis!
This is it.
“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,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I encourage you my dear people of God to line the streets he will take, watch the papal vehicle pass by and be blessed by the sight of the Pope passing our way going around the city,” said the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“Bring out your family images of the saints and the Blessed Virgin. Bring out your Santo Niños and crucifixes. Bring out your heart in welcome!”
Francis, the fourth Pope to visit the Philippines since 1970, is scheduled to touch down at Villamor Air Base at 5:45 p.m. Thursday on an Alitalia flight from Sri Lanka on the second leg of a six-day Asian trip, with his message of “mercy and compassion,” the theme of his papacy.
On the Pope’s arrival, Church bells will peal across this nation of 75 million Roman Catholics, and Villegas urged the faithful to line the streets Francis would traverse during his four-day visit to Manila and Tacloban City and nearby Palo in Leyte province.
“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,” said Villegas, the archbishop of Lingayen and Dagupan. “Watch the Pope passing by. Christ is passing by. Be blessed as he passes by.”
The Philippine Church hierarchy, in coordination with the Aquino administration, has mounted tight security precautions for the visit.
‘Pope of surprises’
“We are prepared,” Villegas said. “There is no such thing as 100-percent prepared because Pope Francis is the Pope of surprises. You have to prepare also for his surprises.”
“But humanly speaking, everything that we must do we have actually done. We are praying and we are asking people to pray that in the end, this is not just a state visit. This is not just a visit of the Pope. This is a spiritual renewal for the Filipino people and the goal is revival of the faith—that is the most important factor,” he added.
The government has mobilized a force of nearly 40,000 police and soldiers to protect the Pope. Snipers will be deployed on building rooftops, aerial cover will be provided by the Philippine Air Force and K9 dogs will roam where Francis will appear.
Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, directed “prayer warriors” to dedicate a “holy hour” at 7 a.m. during the Pope’s four-day visit “to offer prayers within their faith for the safety of the Pope and the attending public, said Maj. Harley Flores, administrative officer of the AFP Chaplain Service.
“For this year, this will be the greatest security nightmare that we can have,” Catapang said.
In a nationally televised address on Monday, President Aquino urged Filipinos joining the events to remain calm and avoid creating a stampede. “I ask you, do you want history to record that a tragedy involving the Pope happened in the Philippines?” Aquino said.
A storm brewing in the Pacific is likely to weaken as it approaches the country, but weathermen say it will bring rain in Manila and Leyte during the Pontiff’s visit. As part of security measures, no umbrellas will be allowed in the venues, along with backpacks. Only transparent bags and raincoats are authorized.
“Let us turn to prayer for good weather for the visit of the Holy Father,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said in a circular to his parishes on Wednesday. “Let us implore the God of creation to clear the skies when Pope Francis arrives and stays in Tacloban so that all who are there will experience comfort as they welcome and listen to his message.”
After Mass on Saturday at Daniel Z. Romualdez International Airport in Tacloban City, Francis is expected to stop along his way to the Archbishop’s Residence in Palo to visit a family in Tacloban City.
He will share lunch with 30 survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) and the 2013 Bohol earthquake at the Archbishop’s Residence before he proceeds to the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, which he will bless.
Visit to mass grave
The Pope then rides an open vehicle to Palo Cathedral for the meeting with priests, religious men and women, seminarians and survivors’ families.
Before his flight back to Manila from Leyte, the Holy Father is expected to make a short stop at the mass grave in the vicinity of Palo Cathedral, where he lights a candle and prays for the deceased victims of Yolanda.
Francis’ final Mass at Manila’s Quirino Grandstand on Sunday is expected to draw huge crowds, probably bigger than the estimated 4 million people who turned up for St. John Paul II’s Eucharistic celebration at the end of the World Youth Day in 1995.
Concerned particularly with the possibility of stampedes, President Aquino, until Wednesday, sought “improvements” in security arrangements both for the Pope and the millions of people who would come to see him.
Aquino inspects route
On Monday night, Aquino inspected the route of the papal convoy, from the Villamor Air Base in Pasay where Francis’ Alitalia plane is set to arrive at 5:45 p.m. later, to the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft Avenue in Manila, his official residence in the Philippines.
“The President has always said that he is never satisfied. It’s always a constant improvement of the security situation and the security preparations,” his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, told reporters.
So focused was Aquino with “minute” details that he noticed a crane near the nunciature. Lacierda said the President asked that the structure be moved to a different direction.
“You could see how the President monitors and really observes. He is very mindful of the surroundings,” he said.
A dry run of the arrival ceremonies on Monday included the two neglected children who will greet Francis in Villamor Air Base. The practice included a scenario where Francis, known as a Pope of many surprises, might decide to carry either Lanie Ortillo, 9, or Mark Angelo Balberos, 10.
In Malacañang, the Pope will be “accorded the formalities and dignities [for] a head of state,” Lacierda said.
Francis is scheduled to arrive at 9:15 a.m. Friday for the welcome ceremony, which will include the playing of the Philippine and papal anthems, and a 21-gun salute.
Pangkat Kawayan (Bamboo Orchestra) will play for the Pope as he walks by Kalayaan Hall on his way to the Palace where he will be formally introduced to members of the Philippine delegation.
Francis will sign the guest book on his way to a brief meeting with the President. Later at Rizal Hall, the Pope and the President will deliver messages before an audience of 450 people.
The whole affair will last for an hour and a half before Francis celebrates Mass at Manila Cathedral at 11:15 a.m.
“As Catholics, we’re very, very blessed to have the Pope to come visit us,” Lacierda said.
In urging the faithful to go out of their homes and welcome the Pope, Archbishop Villegas enumerated the papal motorcade routes:
In the evening Thursday, the public may welcome the Pope as he leaves Villamor Air Base, taking Newport Garden to Andrews Avenue toward Airport Road-Domestic Road to Roxas Boulevard-Quirino Avenue-Leveriza Intersection until Taft Avenue.
On Friday in the morning, the people may line up along Taft Avenue toward Osmena-Quirino toward Nagtahan Magsaysay Boulevard until J.P. Laurel to Malacañang.
From Malacañang, the Pope will go to Manila Cathedral at around 10 a.m. passing General Solano to Casal-Ayala Bridge to Finance Road to Burgos, Bonifacio Drive toward Anda Circle reaching Aduana Street and Manila Cathedral.
On Friday afternoon, the public may watch the Pope pass Taft Avenue to Leveriza intersection-Quirino Avenue to Roxas Boulevard until SM Mall of Asia where he will meet the families.
The Pope will be in Leyte on Saturday.
On Sunday morning, the Pope will go to the University of Santo Tomas (UST), passing along Quirino-Osmeña Highway intersection toward Nagtahan until España Boulevard reaching UST. He will take the reverse route from UST back to the Apostolic Nunciature. Residents in the area have the opportunity to watch the Pope pass by twice.
On Sunday afternoon on his way to Luneta, the Pope will pass Quirino Avenue, Roxas Boulevard until he reaches Kalaw Street.
On Monday, the Pope will proceed to Villamor Air Base, passing Leveriza-Quirino toward Roxas Boulevard to Domestic Road toward Andrews Avenue and Villamor.–With reports from Nikko Dizon and Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila, and Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas
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