Mabuhay! Joyous welcome greets Pope Francis in PHL
January 15, 2015 5:57pm
(Updated 9:13 p.m.) A joyous, fiesta-like welcome greeted Pope Francis upon his arrival in the Philippines late Thursday afternoon for his much awaited five-day state and apostolic visit.

All over the Philippines, a pre-dominantly Catholic country, church bells tolled as the plane carrying the 78-year-old Pope landed at the Villamor Air Base for the final leg of his week-long Asian tour. His plane landed 5:32 p.m. He was fetched by Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, the apostolic nuncio.

The atmosphere was festive as about 1,500 schoolchildren welcomed the Pope with lively dances, waving white cloths, and red, white and blue umbrellas to form the Philippine flag. Their shirts were printed with the message "Mabuhay (Welcome) Pope Francis!"

Pope Francis, who arrived via Sri Lanka A340, was welcomed by Philippine government and Church officials led by President Benigno Aquino III, who met him at the foot of the plane's stairs.

A festive dance number was performed by Filipino students to greet the Pope. They danced to songs like “Piliin ang Pilipinas,” “Kapayapaan,” and a cultural song “Sayaw ng Pagbati.”

Nine-year-old Lanie Ortillo and 10-year-old Mark Angelo Balbero, both abandoned by their parents, offered Pope Francis a bouquet of flowers. In return, they were hugged by the Pope and received white rosaries from him. 

"I wish the Pope will bless me so that my mother will come back to us," said Ortilla before the Pope arrived. "We hope the Pope gives us blessings so that Filipinos can change for the better."

Other well-wishers included teachers and chaperones of the children who waved Philippine and Vatican flags.

Welcome party

Upon disembarking, Pope Francis was introduced to the 12 members of Aquino's Cabinet, namely:

1. Vice President Jejomar C. Binay
2. Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa
3. Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario
4. Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima
5. Justice Leila De Lima
6. Public Works Secretary Rogelio L. Singson
7. Education Secretary Armin A. Luistro
8. Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin
9. Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II
10. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya
11. Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad
12. Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan

Meanwhile, among the Catholic Church leaders who were at the welcome party were:

1. His Eminence Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato
2. His Excellency Most Rev. Antonio J. Ledesma S.J., Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
3. His Excellency Most Rev. Romulo G. Valles, Archbishop of Davao
4. His Excellency Most Rev. Sofronio A. Bancud, S.S.S, Bishop of Cabanatuan
5. His Excellency Most Rev. Rodolfo F. Beltran, Bishop of San Fernando De La Union
6. His Excellency Most Rev. Jose A. Cabantan, Bishop of Malaybalay
7. His Excellency Most Rev. Bernardino C. Cortez, Prelate of Infanta
8. His Excellency Most Rev. Gilbert A. Garcera, Bishop of Daet
9. His Excellency Most Rev. Angelito R. Lampon, O.M. . Vicar Apostolic Of Jolo
10. His Excellency Most Rev Emilio Z. Marquez, Bishop of Lucena
11. His Excellency Most Rev. Jesse E. Mercado
12. Rev. Fr. Marvin S. Mejia, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

People on the streets

Hours before the Pope landed, tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets to witness Pope Francis' nighttime motorcade that brought him from Villamor Air Base to the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft Avenue, his official residence during the visit.

Before the Philippines, Pope Francis visited Sri Lanka for the canonization ceremony of Joseph Vaz. He chose Sri Lankan Airlines to fly him to the Philippines instead of the Italian carrier Alitalia.

The trip comes just five months after Pope Francis visited South Korea, signalling the huge
importance the Vatican places on Asia and its potential for more followers.

The Philippines is one of the Catholic Church's modern success stories, counting roughly 80 percent of the former Spanish colony's 100 million people as Catholics, which has helped to offset waning influence in Europe and the United States.

‘Happy, blessed, worth it’

After getting a glimpse of Pope Francis, the students, as well as their teachers and chaperones, couldn't help but express exultation on having seen the Pope in person.

The students naturally added a youthful energy to the Pope’s arrival ceremony. They have been practicing for weeks for the performance, but they said all the hard work they put into the dance were worth it.

“Lahat ng pagod, ‘di na naming naisip kasi nandiyan na si Pope… Sobrang worth it,” a student from Mary Immaculate School of Parañaque said.

Pope's itinerary

During his visit, Pope Francis will meet survivors of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Leyte, an event that local Church leaders said is the "centerpiece" of his Philippine visit.

Over 6,000 people died when Yolanda lashed Central Visayas in November 2013, with millions left homeless and desperate.

In Leyte, the Pope will celebrate Mass with the survivors at the airport in Tacloban, one of the
worst-hit cities by the typhoon.

The Pope is also scheduled to celebrate Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila, an event expected to be attended by millions of devotees.

Pope Francis will depart the country Monday morning, January 19.


For the Pope’s arrival, security was tight for those who were going inside the Villamor Air Base. They had to go through two screening process.

Thousands of policemen were also deployed on the papal route going to the Apostolic Nunciature to create a human barricade and control the crowd.

On the eve of the Pope's arrival, Aquino personally inspected motorcade routes and public venues, which were lined with black-and-white concrete barriers topped by thick wire mesh to control eager crowds.

Roxas said Aquino was willing to serve as Francis' "personal bodyguard" to ensure his safety. In a televised address on Monday, Aquino appealed to Filipinos to follow security rules after two people were killed in a stampede during a religious procession on Friday.

Asked if he was nervous ahead of the Pope's arrival, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor said: "For a long time now, yes. This is very challenging for the PNP."

In 1970, a Bolivian artist dressed as a priest tried to stab Pope Paul VI when he arrived at Manila airport.

In 1995, a group of Islamist militants conspired to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Manila, a plan uncovered by police after an accidental fire in the militants' rented apartment.

Snipers will be positioned at key points around Manila and Tacloban during Francis' visit, and sniffer dogs will check sites he is due to visit.—with Reuters/KBK/JST, GMA News

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