MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis — the head of the Catholic Church — will officially arrive to the Philippines on Thursday, January 15th, and he will be greeted by record-breaking crowds in Asia’s largest Catholic country, with 80 percent or 80 million. Pope Francis first official visit to the Philippines is expected to draw nearly 6 million people, which would beat the 1995 visit by John Paul II, who is now a Saint, currently holding the record for highest attendance at a papal event, with around 5 million.
As for many Filipinos, Pope Francis’ Philippines tour, from January 15th to 19th — when he will be be celebrating Holy Mass in Manila Cathedral and in Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay. The leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic world will also visit the typhoon Yolanda’s heavily devastated areas of Tacloban and Palo in Leyte province — will be a sacred occasion to hear firsthand a message that’s making Catholicism a place where religious values can coexist with subjects that have long been taboo here, like sex education, pre-marital sex, homosexuality and divorce or annulment.
An official website runs a countdown to Francis’ arrival and offers meticulous details of his visit and early life, including the fact that he once worked as a nightclub bouncer. Tarpaulins with Francis’ smiling image line the spruced-up the busy streets of Manila, where preparations for the visit have peaked. Three work days falling within his visit have been declared holidays. In a country where singing is a passion, local artists have recorded at least two papal visit souvenir albums of mostly original songs. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, known for his baritone, is one of the crooners.
While the pontiff has declared “Mercy and Compassion” as the theme of his visit to the Philippines, we should also expect intense jostling from interest groups and advocacies aspiring to hear echoes of their causes from the the rock-star Pontiff.
There are three (3) popemobiles will be used for the five-day visit of Pope Francis in the country. Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas stated that the three popemobiles are ready to ensure that the Pontiff’s trip will not be disrupted in case a automobile gets malfunctioned. Pope Francis will use a Kia popemobile from South Korea, an Isuzu popemobile and a jeepney-type popemobile made in the Philippines.
The Isuzu popemobile will be used to welcome the Pope from Villamor Air Base on January 15th and on the following day, he will use the same vehicle when he goes to Malacañang, Manila Cathedral and SM Mall of Asia Arena. Furthermore, Pope Francis will use the a Kia World Youth Day Popemobile on his visit to Tacloban City on 17th of January. The jeepney popemobile will be the one to be used by the Pope when he goes to the Quirino Grandstand on January 18th.
Meanwhile, Smart Communications Inc., partnered with Twitter to offer free unlimited data access to the micro-blogging and social networking app from January 15th to 19th – Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. The Pope is the second most followed, popular, and retweeted world leader on Twitter today to date with over 17 million followers across his 9 accounts in different languages. In a press release, Smart Communications stated that all 69 million prepaid and postpaid subscribers of Smart, Sun Cellular, and Talk N’ Text “may take to Twitter without worrying about mobile data charges, allowing more Filipinos to follow the Pope’s Twitter account (@Pontifex), send wishes and prayers to the Pope using #DearPopeFrancis hashtag, and get real-time updates on the much anticipated apostolic and state visit of Pope Francis in the Philippines.”