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Prior to Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the country on Thursday, only two pontiffs have ever set foot on Philippine soil — Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.
As the first ever leader of the Roman Catholic Church to come to the Philippines, Pope Paul VI made history when he arrived in 1970 as part of a journey to the Far East and the Pacific. Pope John Paul II, meanwhile, left his mark in the hearts of Filipinos after making two trips to the country: one in 1981 for the beatification of St. Lorenzo Ruiz and another in 1995 for World Youth Day.
That makes Pope Francis' highly-anticipated visit just the fourth time the country would welcome the Pope.
Pope Paul VI, known as the Pilgrim Pope for being one of the most traveled Popes, came to the country prior to the declaration of martial law. Religious leaders formed an inter-faith committee in 1967 with the aim of inviting the pontiff to the Philippines, and it took them around three years to succeed in persuading the Pope to finally take the long journey to Manila.
The Pope left Vatican on a chartered plane and arrived in the Manila International Airport on the morning of November 27, 1970. He was greeted by President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda, their daughter Irene, and a huge crowd that gathered in the tarmac to receive the pontiff.
His arrival, however, was marred by an assassination attempt by Bolivian artist Benjamin Mendoza, who lunged at him with a knife. The attack was thwarted, however, and the Pope escaped with only a wound on the chest.
With the incident behind him, the Pope then went for a brief tour of the Nayong Pilipino, where throngs of people had also been waiting to welcome him, before heading to the Manila Cathedral to celebrate mass.
Pope Paul VI had a busy itinerary during his brief stay in the capital — attending a reception at Malacañang Palace, celebrating mass at Quezon City Memorial Circle, ordaining priests at Rizal Park, speaking on air through Radio Veritas, meeting students of University of Santo Tomas, and visiting residents of Tondo.
The Pope's trip was one of the top newsmakers in the country that year, occupying a significant amount of space on national dailies. Aside from making headlines, his arrival inspired the publication of numerous editorials, columns, letters to the editor, advertisements, and paid welcome messages from the private sector on the pages of newspapers.
Some 11 years later, another Pope visited the country — Pope John Paul II, who was now canonized as a saint last April by Pope Francis. Pope John Paul II was able to go to places outside the capital, including Baguio City, Legazpi City, Bacolod City, Iloilo, Bataan, Cebu, and Davao.
The pontiff's first order of business was the celebration of mass at Manila Cathedral, before a jam-packed schedule of activities in addition to visiting UST and the people of Tondo.
He addressed almost every facet of society - reaching out to religious women in Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, professionals in Araneta Coliseum, members of the Chinese Catholic, Muslim, and indigenous communities, laborers, farmers, landowners, religious leaders, students, the urban poor, families, the sick, and even the media.
The highlight of the Pope's trip was the historic beatification ceremony of now canonized saint Lorenzo Ruiz in Rizal Park, the first to be held outside the Vatican.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II returned to the Philippines for the World Youth Day, the first time an Asian country hosted the event. Delegates from countries all over the world gathered at UST for the International Youth Forum, and the closing mass in Rizal Park attracted five million people, considered as the largest papal gathering in recorded history.
Another assassination attempt almost spoiled the Pope's visit, but the Bojinka Plot masterminded by Ramzi Yousef was discovered days earlier. The attack had been prevented by authorities and the festivities proceeded smoothly.
The World Youth Day, which started in 1985 and the brainchild of the Pope, had a logo and a theme song for the first time when it was held in Manila. Filipina songwriter Trina Belamide composed the piece "Tell The World of His Love" for the event, while the logo was decided by a design competition.
Pope John Paul II was set for another visit to the Philippines in 2003 for the World Meeting of families, but his failing health prevented him from pushing through with the scheduled trip.
Now, in 2015, the Filipino faithful are once again thrilled as we await the arrival of Pope Francis on Thursday. —JST/KG, GMA News