Pope Francis has come! The charismatic head of the Roman Catholic Church has finally set foot on the sole Christian nation in Asia that is in dire need of one prominent and popular figure that is not divisive, vengeful, antagonistic, and selective. The Pope will be spending five days in the country to bring his message of mercy and compassion, as well as to further the momentum of the growth of the Catholic Church in Asia. The Papal Visit in the Philippines brings the 78-year-old Argentinian priest to crowds of Christians overwhelmingly eager to see him in the flesh and, if lucky, to be able to touch him or at least get a wave or a smile.
There’s undeniable Papal mania in Manila. If the Black Nazarene celebration pooled in a sea of people, the arrival of Pope Francis brought a multitude of religious Filipinos from different parts of the country to patiently wait for the Pope’s arrival and to welcome him with various presentations – from the dancing and playing of musical instruments to the umbrella flag formation and the simple cheers and smiles of thousands of Filipinos who couldn’t wait to see the Pope in person. The crowds are expected to number in millions during the open air mass on Sunday, January 18, in Luneta.
The Pope’s visit is regarded as a security nightmare for the Philippines. The possibility of attacks from terrorists and Islamic militants cannot be shrugged off. It can be recalled that there have been two attempts to harm visiting popes in the country before so it’s only logical not leaving anything to chance. That’s why nearly 40,000 military personnel and police officers are expected to be deployed, roads have been closed for the motorcade, and more roads and traffic rerouting will be implemented during the Holy Mass in Luneta on Sunday.
Aside from the threats on the Pope, the dangers that can affect crowds are also a major concern. Because of the overwhelming number of people who will be attending or spectating at the papal events, the possibilities of stampedes increase. Even petty crimes like snatching and the uncontrolled operation of street vendors are being keenly overseen as they may trigger bigger problems in the crowds.
President Aquino had a nationally televised address calling for cooperation among Filipinos to ensure the safety of the Pope and to help make the Papal Visit a safe and successful one.
On Tuesday, a late night dry run was conducted in preparation for the actual arrival of the Pope, to familiarize with the flow of activities and management of crowds. So far, authorities are claiming that they are ready with all the plans in place and personnel deployments finalized.
Plan of Activities
The Pope’s five-day trip in the Philippines is going to be a packed affair as expected. On his arrival on Thursday afternoon, he already started his motorcade and interaction with the Filipino crowds. The succeeding days of his itinerary will be a series of activities with hardly any break for the Pope. Actually, the five-day visit is not going to be a full 120 hours of presence of the Pope in the Philippines. The first and last days are mostly his arrival and departure days, which are expectedly going to be less eventful.
On his second day in the country, Friday, the Pope will be having a hectic schedule starting with the welcoming ceremony and courtesy visit at Malacañang. There will be a meeting with the authorities and diplomatic corps after the Malacañang affair followed by a Holy Mass with bishops, priests, and religious at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Manila. In the afternoon, the Pope will be gracing the “Meeting with the Families” at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Saturday’s activities will focus on Tacloban. A holy mass will be held near the Tacloban International Airport by around 10:00 AM. After the mass, Pope Francis will be having a lunch with some of the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda at the Tacloban Archbishop’s residence in Palo. At around 3:30 in the afternoon, the Pope will be holding a meeting with priests, seminarians, religious men and women, and families of Yolanda survivors. He will be heading back to the capital by around 5:00 PM.
Sunday will be the big day for the Manila-based activities of the Papal Visit. After the short meeting with various religious leaders at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas at around quarter to 10:00 AM, the Meeting with the Youth event at the Sports Field of the University of Santo Tomas will follow. The highly anticipated grand Holy Mass at Rizal Park will then be held by 3:30 PM.
Monday, January 19, will be the day the Pope will be leaving Manila. He will depart by around 10:00 AM after the leave taking ceremony at the Presidential Pavilion of Villamor Air Base.
Mercy and Compassion
The 2015 Papal Visit aims to bring the message of mercy and compassion not only among Catholics in the country but also to other religious groups and even those who have not affiliated themselves with a religion. The wrath of super typhoon Yolanda is most likely one of the reasons why the Papal Visit carries with it the theme of mercy and compassion. The plight of many Filipinos in the Visayas and in other parts of the country is worth examining and the faithful are expected to contemplate on their lives with regard to how others have suffered and are still suffering. Hopefully, the Pope’s presence can awaken in every Filipino the traits of clemency and sympathy. For the country’s leaders, hopefully, they would rethink plans that directly or indirectly burden the poor and come up with programs that are more efficient and not based on political affiliations and interests.
The Mania-Inducing Pope
Pope Francis is immensely popular that items that symbolize him are virtually everywhere. His standees are a hit for selfie takers. His face has been printed on a wide range of personal items, from shirts to fans and memorabilia. The Pope’s name and photos have spread across the country in a manner that may be described by some as a form of extreme fanaticism. News websites and blogs in the country have been filled with an abundance of posts related to the Pope for several weeks now. News and discussions about Pope Francis have likewise occupied prominent spots on TV and radio. There’s a mania going on and it’s something almost everyone would willingly tolerate.
Of course, not everyone who is trying to wear the Pope’s name and face does it as a way welcoming the Pope and as a symbolism for following his words and examples. The notorious Janet Napoles, for instance, irritated millions of Filipinos when she wore a “Pope Francis shirt” to her bail hearing. Several epal politicians are shamelessly using the Papal Visit as an opportunity to have their names written alongside the Pope’s on tarpaulins hung in public areas. Even the Popemobile was politicized as some public officials insisted on making the Pope use their “jeep popemobile” supposedly to help promote tourism.
Arguably, the Pope is able to create such mania because he is extremely popular – and he is extremely popular, apparently, because of his nonconformist attitude and “leadership by example” approach in convincing people to see the Catholic Church in a new light. Numerous media reports present him, with matching photos and videos, as a man of his words. He washed the feet of disabled people, kissed and embraced ill and disfigured people, and expressed his clear stand on various issues that others used to elude or answer vaguely. He has successfully shown the world that the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church seriously wants to bring back the faith in the religion while respecting other religions and being open to changes that used to be quickly gunned down by previous leaders of the Catholic Church.
A Welcome Distraction
Without a doubt, the Pope is a welcome presence in the country. His visit might be disrupting many things but he is perceived to be bringing more good than annoyance and inconvenience. Who cares about traffic congestion when you see those teary eyes of children and other religious Filipinos who get overwhelmed by their emotions at the sight of the Pope? The opportunism, epal acts, petty issues raised in relation to the Pope’s visit seem to be dwarfed to irrelevance when you realize that the man who is visiting your country is bringing with him the possibility of rectifying the bruised image of the Catholic Church and positively influencing the mindsets of the country’s leaders. The Pope’s visit is a distraction but it’s a type of rare worthwhile distraction that allows you to transcend the pettiness of social and political woes as you rediscover your faith and feel hopeful and compassionate.
Photo of arrival shot by Catholic News Service/Paul Haring. Smiling photo of Pope Francis via Rappler.com . Some rights reserved.
As originally posted at Papal Mania in Manila – A welcome distraction Part 1 and Part 2