MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis, the leader of Roman Catholic Church, has safely arrived to a joyful welcome at the Villamor Airbase in Manila late afternoon Thursday, January 15th. The Sri Lankan Airlines A340 airplane that brought him from Colombo, Sri Lanka, the first leg of the pontiff’s Asian tour, landed at the Villamor Airbase at exactly 5:32 P.M. (Philippine Standard Time), as bells simultaneously rings in churches across the archipelago of the country.
The 78-year-old Jesuit pope Francis smiled and waved from left to right and vice versa to the excited Filipino crowd as he exited the plane a few minutes later. Children danced on the runway, their red, white, and blue umbrellas forming the Philippine flag. “Mabuhay, Papa Francisco (Long live, Pope Francis)!” said hundreds of Filipino children who greeted him, part of the 3,000 people in the native festival-esque arrival honors for the Pope Francis at the Villamor Airbase.
Pope Frnacis spent about 30 minutes at the airbase, greeting the dignitaries and well-wishers led by President Benigno Aquino III and his cabinet members, before riding in an open-air popemobile with 2 fellow religious leaders, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. Thousands of Filipinos cheered and took photos of the Pope Francis as he traversed the 22-kilometer stretch between the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City and the Papal Nunciature at the Taft Avenue in Manila, the residence of the Vatican Ambassador to Manila, where Francis will be staying. It took only about 37 minutes for Pope Francis and his delegates to arrive at the Apostolic Nunciature in Taft Avenue from Villamor Airbase, much faster than the initial 3 to 4 hours that the government authorities earlier estimated.
It’s the first time in 20 years that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is visiting this Southeast Asian country of 100 million people, where 80 percent or 80 million of them are Catholics and poor.
The last pope to visit the Philippines was Pope John Paul II, in 1995. He visited the country twice. The terrorist plot to kill John Paul II using liquid bombs was foiled a few days before his arrival. The pontiff’s visit to the Philippines is a security challenge to the country It’s a big police and military operation, with up to 40,000 policemen are being deployed for the entire duration of the Pope’s visit. There is no-fly-zone has been implemented and some seaports are closed. There’s no work and classes in Metro Manila and in Leyte.