Pope begins Asian trip
Apostolic pilgrimage takes him to Sri Lanka, Philippines
Pope Francis embarks on his second Asian pilgrimage this week, visiting Sri Lanka and the Philippines exactly 20 years after St. John Paul II’s record-making visit to two countries with wildly disparate Catholic populations. Francis will make headlines of his own, drawing millions of faithful in the Philippines and treading uncharted political waters following Sri Lanka’s remarkable electoral upset last week.
A day before his departure for the eight-day apostolic trip that will take him to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Pope Francis asked the Catholic faithful “to pray for me for this visit.”
“Tomorrow evening, I will leave for an apostolic trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Thanks for your prayers in this shared endeavor. I ask you to please accompany me with prayers,” the pontiff addressed the thousands gathered at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, shortly after praying the Angelus during his regular Sunday audience.
Pope Francis departed from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport for Sri Lanka last night at 7 p.m.
“I also ask the Sri Lankans and Filipinos who are here in Rome to pray for me for this visit,” Pope Francis added. He ended his address by wishing all those present “a good Sunday even if the weather is a bit bad, but may you have a good Sunday. Don’t forget to pray for me.”
Early in the day, Pope Francis baptized 33 babies at the Sistine Chapel in observance of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. He encouraged Christians “to remember their baptism with joy and to pray often to the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis arrives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, this morning for his three-day apostolic visit. According to the Vatican Radio, the pontiff will canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green in Colombo tomorrow. His official itinerary also includes a meeting with bishops, a courtesy visit to the president, an interreligious meeting, a Marian prayer at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary at Madhu, and a visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of Lanka at Bolawalana, before he departs for Manila on Thursday morning.
New Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who capitalized on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s unpopularity among the island nation’s ethnic and religious minorities, will be on hand to welcome Francis when he arrives in the capital, Colombo, on Tuesday.
Francis will be bringing a message of reconciliation between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority and interfaith harmony after Sri Lanka’s quarter-century civil war ended in 2009 with the army’s violent crushing of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
After the Sri Lanka visit, Pope Francis is expected to arrive January 15 at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at 5:45 p.m. for a five-day apostolic visit.
President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay will welcome the Pope.
“The Vice President will welcome the Pope in Villamor,” Binay’s spokesman, Joey Salgado said.
The second highest official is usually tasked to welcome a head of state upon arrival in the country.
Aquino will also lead a welcome ceremony at Malacañang on Friday morning.
It is not the first time that Binay will be meeting the Pope.
The Vice President was sent by Aquino as his representative during the Pope’s installation and inaugural mass at the Vatican in March, 2013.
Regarding security concerns, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said there is no threat, whether from foreign or local groups, in connection with the five-day visit of Pope Francis.
AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the military’s main concern is how to control the big number of people who would be trooping to the areas where the Pope would be present.
“So far, we have no serious threat coming out of our radar screen… The issue now is actually crowd management,” said Padilla.
But the AFP spokesman stressed that government security forces have prepared for the worst case scenarios.
“Despite the fact that we don’t see any serious threat looming in the horizon, the degree of preparation is such in a state that it has veered for any kind of worst case scenarios,” he stated.
Reports said that the Philippine National Police (PNP) had already issued a memorandum ordering its units to be on alert against possible attacks from foreign terrorists, but Padilla dismissed such possibility.
“We are not seeing anything, there is nothing coming out like that…as in zero,” he said.
But PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina denied there was ever such a memorandum, which the report said came from the intelligence office in Camp Crame.
Although there is no foreseen threat, the Aquino government has adopted the mentality of the Germans and Japanese in laying out organized and detailed security preparations for the visit of Pope Francis this week.
Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said authorities would exercise the mantra of “prepare for the worst and do your best” during the papal visit.
“President Aquino mentioned in the meetings on preparations for the visit of the Pope that we should think like the Germans and the Japanese. We should make sure the planning and preparations are well-organized. All details are taken into consideration,” Coloma said in a radio interview.
“We really have to consider everything that may happen,” he added.
BEST SECURITY PLAN
Although satisfied with the security preparations for Pope’s visit, the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the best security plan is still the people taking care of one another.
“I think the best security plan for Pope Francis would be five million people attending mass in Rizal Park and taking care of one another,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, said in a forum in Manila yesterday.
“It would be the personal commitment of each one to be caring for one another because it is not enough that there is no trouble during the papal visit. We should go beyond controlling trouble during the papal visit. The papal visit should become the most loving event in Metro Manila and in Tacloban. And the one to do that would be millions of people, who want to see Pope Francis,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis will use the popemobile that he used in Korea when he visits Tacloban on January 17.
Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos, chairman of the Papal Visit Committee on Transportation, said the popemobile was used by the pontiff during the Asian Youth Day gathering in Korea in August, 2014.
“We have three popemobile. One will be used in Manila, one in Tacloban, and another will be used as backup,” he said in a press briefing yesterday.
“Two are locally made while the one used by the Holy Father in Seoul, Korea will be used in Tacloban,” added Santos.
However, the prelate did not name the local manufacturers of the popemobile.
But in a separate interview, Villegas said the three popemobile that will be used are Isuzu, Kia, and one jeepney inspired.
“The Kia is the one that we borrowed from Korea. The Isuzu and the jeepney type were fabricated here in the Philippines,” he said. (With reports from JC Bello Ruiz, Elena L. Aben, Genalyn D. Kabiling, and Lesie Ann G. Aquino)
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