Philippines prepares for pope with messages on spirituality, crowds

In this 2013 file photo, a Filipino boy walks in the destroyed cathedral in Palo, Philippines. The pope is scheduled to meet survivors as well as priests and religious and give a speech there Jan. 17. (CNS/EPA/Nic Bothma)

Manila, Philippines — Philippine church and government leaders are preparing the country for Pope Francis' visit with spiritual guidance for the faithful and precautions about crowd control.

Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle announced details of the pope's Jan. 15-19 itinerary, which includes his arrival late Jan. 15, after just over two days in Sri Lanka. The itinerary was released simultaneously at the Vatican.

"The pastoral visit of Pope Francis will surely bring much blessing to all of us," said Tagle, "especially to the poor, the survivors of calamities, both natural- and human-caused and the victims of different types of injustice. The concern and solidarity of Jesus the Good Shepherd will be palpable in the person and presence of Pope Francis."

Pope Francis leaves Rome Jan. 12 to fly to Sri Lanka, which is still trying to promote reconciliation and peaceful coexistence after a bloody conflict from 1983 to 2009 claimed thousands of lives. While the majority of Sri Lanka's 20 million inhabitants belong to the Sinhalese ethnic group, rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam fought for autonomy for the Tamil majority in the country's north and east.

During his stay in Sri Lanka, the pope will celebrate a Mass Jan. 14 for the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, an Indian missionary credited with reviving almost single-handedly the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka during severe persecution by Dutch colonial authorities in the 17th century. The missionary was beatified in Colombo by Pope John Paul II in January 1995.

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In the country where Buddhists make up almost 70 percent of the population and Christians only about 6 percent, Pope Francis also will meet with leaders of various faith groups before leaving Sri Lanka Jan. 15.

On Jan. 16, his first full day here, Pope Francis will spend time with families from all 86 dioceses of the Philippines. On that morning, he will take care of state visit obligations with a courtesy call to President Benigno Aquino and meetings with the diplomatic corps. He also will celebrate Mass for the priests and women and men religious at the Manila cathedral.

The following day, the pope will visit Tacloban and Palo, two central Philippine cities battered in November 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it was known locally.

Archbishop John Du of Palo said in a statement read by a church official, "The decision of Pope Francis to come to the Philippines and especially to visit the Palo archdiocese, to show solidarity with the victims of the Yolanda catastrophe, was very unexpected but is also very much welcome."

Most of the 7,300 dead or missing from the typhoon came from Tacloban and surrounding towns, including Palo.

The pope will celebrate Mass on the Tacloban Airport grounds, then travel just south to Palo, where he will have lunch at the archbishop's house with survivors of the typhoon and bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor. He will celebrate Mass for priests, women and men religious as well as seminarians at Palo's Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, whose roof was reduced to a mangled mess of metal during the storm.

Du's message also included the reminder that he expected hundreds of thousands to converge on the small town of Palo, while Manila would see the millions expected to turn out for the pope's open air Mass at Rizal Park Jan. 18.

In 1995, people in this overwhelmingly Catholic country lined Manila's streets, making them virtually impassable to cars during Pope John Paul's visit.

Marciano Paynor, former Philippine ambassador to Israel and Cyprus, represents the government on the planning committee. He said that in 1995, "we could not keep (the pope's) schedule because the roads were blocked."

Paynor also noted that although some typhoon survivors living along the papal motorcade route were being moved, plans to move them were in place well before the planning of the papal visit started.

In Tacloban, some 3,000 residents still live in so-called danger zones, places that were vulnerable to the 15-foot storm surges. One of those communities that is being urged to move into temporary housing is on the edge of the Tacloban Airport grounds. In Palo, a road-widening project requires the survivors to be transferred to temporary housing.

Officials also said the government was taking great precautions with the pope's security during his visit. They were mum on whether he would be traveling in an open vehicle and whether they had any information on any possible threats to the pope's life.

Paquito Ochoa, presidential executive secretary, emphasized several times: "Let's just not be too detailed on that. Precisely we want to make sure that the pope is safe. So it's in the interest of this country that we keep it that way ... can we just defer discussions on details?"

Also Nov. 14, the Philippine National Police announced it formed a security task force for the pope's visit.

The pope's speeches are all expected to be delivered in English. But Bishop Mylo Vergara of Pasig, a member of the bishops; commission on social communications, said Pope Francis could spontaneously switch to another language, including Italian or Spanish.

Here is the pope's itinerary as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Time in parenthesis.

Monday, Jan. 12 (Rome)

  • 7 p.m. (1 p.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport for Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, Jan. 13 (Colombo)

  • 9 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Jan. 12) Arrival at Colombo's international airport. Welcoming ceremony. Speech by pope.
  • 1:15 p.m. (2:45 a.m.) Meeting with the bishops of Sri Lanka in the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Colombo.
  • 5 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Visit with the president of Sri Lanka in the presidential residence.
  • 6:15 p.m. (7:45 a.m.) Meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. Speech by pope.

Wednesday, Jan. 14 (Colombo, Madhu, Colombo)

  • 8:30 a.m. (10 p.m. Jan. 13) Mass and canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green. Homily by pope.
  • 2 p.m. (3:30 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Madhu.
  • 3:30 p.m. (5 a.m.) Marian prayer at Madhu's Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. Speech by pope.
  • 4:45 p.m. (6:15 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Colombo.

Thursday, Jan. 15 (Colombo, Manila)

  • 8:15 a.m. (9:45 p.m. Jan. 14) Visit to Our Lady of Lanka Chapel in Bolawalana.
  • 8:45 a.m. (10:15 p.m. Jan. 14) Farewell ceremony at Colombo's international airport.
  • 9 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Jan. 14) Departure for Manila.
  • 5:45 p.m. (4:45 a.m.) Arrival at Manila's Villamor Air Base. Official welcome.

Friday, Jan. 16 (Manila)

  • 9:15 a.m. (8:15 p.m. Jan. 15) Welcoming ceremony at presidential palace and meeting with president.
  • 10:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m. Jan. 15) Meeting with Philippine officials and foreign diplomats in the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of the presidential palace. Speech by pope.
  • 11:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m. Jan. 15) Mass with bishops, priests and members of religious orders in Manila's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Homily by pope.
  • 5:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Meeting with families in Manila's Mall of Asia Arena. Speech by pope.

Saturday, Jan. 17 (Manila, Tacloban, Manila)

  • 8:15 a.m. (7:15 p.m. Jan. 16) Departure by plane for Tacloban.
  • 9:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. Jan. 16) Arrival at Tacloban airport.
  • 10 a.m. (9 p.m. Jan. 16) Mass adjacent to Tacloban airport. Homily by pope.
  • 12:45 p.m. (11:45 p.m. Jan. 16) Lunch with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the residence of the archbishop of Palo.
  • 3 p.m. (2 a.m.) Blessing of the Pope Francis Center for the Poor.
  • 3:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m.) Meeting with priests, members of religious orders, seminarians and family members of typhoon survivors in the Palo cathedral. Speech by pope.
  • 5 p.m. (4 a.m.) Departure by plane to Manila.
  • 6:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.) Arrival at Manila's Villamor Air Base.

Sunday, Jan. 18 (Manila)

  • 9:45 a.m. (8:45 p.m. Jan. 17) Brief meeting with Philippine religious leaders at Manila's University of St. Thomas.
  • 10:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Jan. 17) Meeting with young people at the university's athletic field. Speech by pope.
  • 3:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m.) Mass at Manila's Rizal Park. Homily by pope.

Monday, Jan. 19 (Manila, Rome)

  • 9:45 a.m. (8:45 p.m. Jan. 18) Farewell ceremony in the presidential pavilion at Manila's Villamor Air Base.
  • 10 a.m. (9 p.m. Jan. 18) Departure for Rome.
  • 5:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m.) Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.

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