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Papal visits to the Philippines

Modern popes have made it a point to make the long journey to Catholic Philippines, bastion of Christianity in Southeast Asia, at least once in their pontificates. The country has so far been blessed with three papal visits in a span of 25 years. In 1970, Pope Paul VI came as a missionary pope and visited the slums of Manila. A decade later, Pope St. John Paul II came to raise the Philippines’ proto-martyr, Lorenzo Ruiz, to the ranks of the “Blessed.” St. John Paul II returned in 1995 to dialogue with young people, and in the process drew the largest human gathering in history as he preached the message of Christ’s saving mission. For Filipinos, papal visits have been a source of joy, strength, and most importantly, hope.

Pope John Paul II | January 12-16, 1995

The Pope in Dialogue with Young People

St. John Paul II returned to Manila in 1995 to be with young people from all corners of the world in celebration of the 10th World Youth Day. It was another 20,000-mile pilgrimage to strengthen, in the words of an eminent papal biographer, “solidarity with the world’s most populous and least Christian continent.” Little did anyone expect that the closing Eucharist of the week-long festivities in the metropolis would produce not just the biggest papal crowd but the “largest gathering in human history.” It was in Rizal Park, where the Holy Father reechoed his universal call to holiness and issued his memorable exhortation on the World Youth Day theme: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”

Five million, many of them young people, were in attendance. “Christ! Christ! Christ! I speak without abbreviation,” said St. John Paul II in his homily for the solemn Eucharistic celebration on January 15, 1995. “When Christ becomes all of this for you, the world and the Church will have solid reasons for hope for the future.”

Be not afraid!” were Christ’s words that the Polish Pontiff used to preach the message of hope during the Cold War. At the International Youth Forum in the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, the Holy Father used the same words to rally young people to answer God’s call. “Enormous tasks lie before the youth of the world; especially before the Catholic youth of the Philippines, of Asia and the Far East, on the eve of the Third Millennium,” he said. “The largest mission land of the worldis in need of workers, and the Church constantly prays the Lord of the harvest to send them, to send us, to send you.”

The Holy Father again marked an important milestone in the life of the Philippine Church—the quadricentennial of the elevation of the See of Manila to an Archdiocese and the erection of three suffragans: the Dioceses of Cebu, Nueva Segovia, and Caceres. “The establishment of a Metropolitan Church in the Philippines bore witness to the fact that the work of the first missionaries had borne abundant fruit … In this part of the world it is the Philippines which enjoys the greatest wealth of ecclesial life,” the Pope said in his homily on January 14, 1995 at the Philippine International Convention Center.

St. John Paul II took the opportunity to reach out to the rest of Asia, as he had done in 1981, and Pope Paul VI before him in 1970 through the facilities of Radio Veritas, which celebrated its 25th year in 1995. Of particular concern were Chinese Catholics, to whom he sent a special message of affection. At San Carlos Seminary, the Holy Father reminded the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences to foster their mission ad gentes, to “make disciples of all nations” in a manner that is not an imposition but rather, one that involves “love and respect for those being evangelized.”

“I take with me a thousand images of the Filipino people,” St. John Paul II said as he left Manila for Papua New Guinea on January 16, 1995. “I know your desire for greater justice and a better life for yourselves and your children … May God help you to follow the path you have already begun: towards a continuing development that preserves and promotes the true values of your Filipino culture!”

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The Philippines: “Arsenal of Faith, Deposit of Christianity in the East”

The story of the Philippines is the story of the Church’s “most successful missionary effort in Asia” (Bokenkotter, 2005). Like the proverbial grain of the mustard seed sown in fertile earth, the growth and development of the Church and the Philippines were the fruits of the labors of missionary friars, sustained by an indigenous clergy, and made vibrant by a faithful people. Jesuit historian Fr. John Schumacher writes: “Whether one is a believing Catholic or not, the development of the Filipino nation cannot be understood without a knowledge of the major, often decisive role that the Church has played, well or ill, in that process, and continues to play.”

I. Spain conquers the Philippines with the Cross of ChristII. A Church established by missionary zealIII. Spiritual life flourishes among FilipinosIV. A Filipino clergy emergesV. A missionary church for Asia and the world

I. Spain conquers the Philippines with the Cross of Christ

Conquista de las Islas Filipinas (Fray Gaspar de San Agust+¡n, Madrid, 1698)

Catholicism came to the Philippines with the European discovery of the archipelago. The explorer Ferdinand Magellan set foot on the islands in 1521 and planted the cross on the island of Cebu, cradle of Christianity in the Philippines. There, he spearheaded the conversion of Rajah Humabon and his consort Harah Amihan, who took the baptismal names Carlos and Juana (after the Spanish king and queen mother). This happened within weeks of the offering of the first Mass in the islands by Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, chaplain of the voyage, on March 31, 1521. Magellan had named the islands the “Archipelago of St. Lazarus.” On the day he first sighted land (March 16, 1521), it was a Saturday, the eve of Passion Sunday, when in the old Roman liturgy, the gospel was the resurrection of St. Lazarus. The name that stuck however was “Las Islas Filipinas” (the Philippine Islands), given by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who headed one of the follow-up expeditions after the death of Magellan in the hands of the natives in the Battle of Mactan.

The evangelization of the Philippines began with the arrival of the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in Cebu on April 27, 1565. The natives fled and burned their homes, but in one hut was recovered the image of the Santo Niño, the Child Jesus. It wasMagellan’s baptismal gift to Queen Juana, and today the object of the largest Christian devotion in the country. Legazpi called the first Spanish settlement the “City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus,” the feast attached to the devotion to the Holy Child.

Street map of Intramuros, 1671

The Augustinian friars who came with Legazpi, led by Fray Andres de Urnadeta, built a church and convent in honor of the Santo Niño in Cebu. In 1571 they went with Legazpi as he conquered Manila and turned the then bustling Muslim settlement into the walled capital (Intramuros) of the new Spanish colony. For 13 years the Augustinians were alone in the missionary effort. The Franciscans arrived in 1578, followed by the Jesuits in 1581. The Dominican mission arrived in 1587. But the first Dominican to land on the islands was Fray Domingo de Salazar, who accompanied the Jesuits six years earlier and took possession of the newly established Diocese of Manila as first bishop. The See of Manila was a suffragan to Mexico until August 14, 1595 when it was elevated to an archdiocese, with the dioceses of Cebu, Nueva Segovia and Caceres (Naga) as suffragans.

Domingo de Salazar, OP, first bishop of Manila

The choice of Salazar as first bishop was propitious. Salazar was a disciple of Bartolome de las Casas, who defended the Amerindians from the abuses of the Spanish colonizers. Salazar was bent on doing the same in the Indies. The legitimacy of the conquest was a question that vexed the young colony, and was addressed precisely by the Synod of Manila convoked by Salazar in 1582. The Synod Fathers concluded that Spain must exercise political dominion over the Philippines to fulfill its primary duty of evangelization, as commissioned by the Pope.Salazar’s synod, more importantly, condemned slavery and resolved to spread the Gospel using the native languages, a key decision that preserved the local tongues.

As expected, Salazar encountered stiff opposition and had to go to Spain to personally plead for the rights of the natives before the royal court. Upon his death the struggle was continued by a fellow Dominican, Fray Miguel de Benavides, who pointed out that tributes had been collected unjustly from unbelievers. Spain must make restitution, he argued, and obtain a just title to the Philippine islands. This could be done only if the natives submitted freely to the colonizers

The Catholic king acceded. The victorious Benavides returned to the Philippines, now the bishop of Nueva Segovia, and himself oversaw the gatherings in which Filipinos voluntarily agreed to be the Spanish king’s subjects.This was the reply of one Filipino to the question of ratification: “We answer that we want the king of Spain to be also our king and ruler because he has sent Spaniards to free us from the tyranny and domination of our own rulers, and also because he has sent us missionary fathers to help us against the Spaniards, ready to defend us against them.”


Alarcon, R.A. (2009). The Episcopal Consecration of Bishop Jorge Barlin: A New Phasein Philippine Church History. Philippiniana Sacra XLIV(131), 383-408.

Arcilla, J. (1998). An Introduction to Philippine History (4th edition, enlarged). Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

_____. ed. (2006). Unknown Aspects of the Philippine Revolution. Makati: St. Pauls Philippines.

Gutierrez, L. (2010). Domingo de Salazar, O.P.: First Bishop of the Philippines, 1512-1594 (A Study of His Life and Work). Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Gutierrez, L., Suñga, E., Santos, R. & de Jesus, A. (1999). The Archdiocese of Manila: A Pilgrimage in Time (1565-1999). Manila: The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila.

Joaquin, N. (2004). Culture and History. Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing, Inc.

Schumacher, J. (1979). Readings in Philippine Church History. Quezon City: Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University.

_____. (1999). Father Jose Burgos: A Documentary History(with Spanish Documents and their Translation). Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

_____. (2009). Growth and Decline: Essays on Philippine Church History. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

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Catholic mediaman urges respect for ‘Pope standees’

 September 18, 2014

QUEZON City, September 18, 2014—Seeing they are often made fun of, Catholic radio anchor Ansel Beluso appeals to the Filipino public to be “more reverential” when taking pictures with the life-size cardboard cutouts of the Pope’s image.

Posting on social media website Facebook (FB) Friday, September 12, Beluso expresses concerns that many—who may or may not be Catholics—disrespect the Holy Father in how they treat his standees.

“May I just say this: When we take a selfie with a life-size image of Pope Francis on a standee, can we please be more reverential about it? I find it disrespectful when people wrap their arms [around] the Pope’s shoulder, acting like they’re on the same level with him, grinning, patting his head, and mocking his baldness,” he said

According to Beluso, he feels “violated” that some go so far as pose like they are about to punch the Holy Father; others even kiss the papal standees.

Meanwhile, other netizens have taken Beluso’s side in denouncing this behavior.

Mabel Gaskell of Quezon City online casino believes it has to do with a loss of the “sense of the sacred”, connecting it with how people behave during mass.

“If they can sit in the pew and behave like they’re sitting on a park bench, then that means they have forgotten or worse ignored the fact that Jesus is present in the tabernacle. And so the Pope to them becomes just an ordinary world figure,” argued Gaskell.

Maria Retina C Sarmiento of Manila underscored the importance of giving the Pope the respect due him as “Vicar of Christ”.

Rey Cazenas of Antique lamented that some people miss the point why Catholics refer to the Pope as “His Holiness”.

”Reverence, respect, and honor should be given to Jesus’ representative on earth. If we see Jesus Christ in Pope Francis, we need to give him the same respect and love,” shares Kristy Manuel of Parañaque.

“A picture or a standee represents the person. I don’t think those people would do that to pictures of their parents or ancestors? It’s in very bad taste,” shared Thelma Balajadia of Cebú, regretting that many Filipinos seem to have lost the value of respect.

Church-run Radyo Veritas is giving away “papal standees” in a bid to raise awareness on the upcoming apostolic visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines scheduled from January 15 to 19, 2015.

“Many people are taking selfies so this is an opportunity to take a picture with the Pope,” said Fr. Anton Pascual, who heads both Radyo Veritas and Caritas Manila.

Pascual added the Church-run radio station aims to place about 100 standees of the Holy Father in selected schools, churches, and offices of religious organizations nationwide, including places the Pontiff is set to visit.(Raymond A. Sebastián)

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Commentator: God of mercy and compassion, we come to you in our need and lift up to you our nation as we prepare for the apostolic visit of Pope Francis.

Commentator: After every invocation we say together:

Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may be faithful to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may be eager to meet and listen to Pope Francis

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may be compassionate with the poor and the needy

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may be merciful with the weak and the lost

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may humbly confess our sins and return to God

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: That we may frequently and devoutly receive Holy Communion

All: Bless your Church Lord!

Commentator: Let us pray

God our Father, we are all your children. Make of us a nation of mercy and compassion eager to meet Pope Francis. Make us a nation of holiness and heroism through Christ our Lord. Amen

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10 things you need to know about Pope Francis

From the moment he stepped into the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica upon his election to the papacy on March 13, 2013, His Holiness Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention for his simple message of God’s boundless love and mercy. Here are 10 things you need to know about His Holiness Pope Francis:

1. Pope Francis is a pope of many “firsts”.
2. Pope Francis sees himself as a sinner.
3. Pope Francis believes the Church should be more like a “field hospital after battle,” with bishops serving as true pastors and priests spending more time in confessionals, consoling wounded souls.
4. Pope Francis wants to keep it simple but “cannot live without people.”
5. Pope Francis only has the deepest of affections for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his “brother” who now lives in a monastery at the Vatican.
6. Pope Francis is a reformer; he is not afraid to shake things up.
7. Pope Francis says “no” to an economy of exclusion.
8. Pope Francis warns Christians against falling into the trap of spiritual worldliness,” which is “self-centeredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God.
9. Pope Francis is a fervent devotee of the Blessed Mother.
10. Pope Francis is a son of the Church.


Selected Sources:

Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, November 24, 2013
“A Big Heart Open to God: The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis” (America: The National Catholic Review), September 30, 2013
Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight from the Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day, July 28, 2013

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About the Theme of the Apostolic Visit: ‘Mercy and Compassion’

The Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines from January 15 – 19, 2015 will have for its theme “Mercy and Compassion”.

Pope Francis will visit the Philippines primarily to comfort Filipinos devastated by the typhoon and the earthquake that hit the Visayas.

This visit calls to mind what Jesus did as recounted in the Gospel.  In Matthew 9:36, Jesus after “seeing the people, felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

And like the Good Shepherd of Whom he is the Vicar here on earth, the Holy Father saw the suffering of his flock. He felt compassion and comes to us bringing “the joy of the gospel” to revive our “drooping spirit” and to lead us to greener pastures (cf. Psalm 23).

The message the Holy Father brings with him challenges us to imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd, who is Mercy and Compassion.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis proclaims that “the Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium 114). Thus, the Holy Father’s visit is to bring Christ’s compassion for our suffering people still struggling to rise from the devastations wrought by the earthquake and the typhoon that hit the Visayas last year.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said the most distinctive way to prepare spiritually for the coming of Pope Francis is for the country to become “a people rich in mercy.”

“Our compassionate shepherd comes to show his deep concern for our people who have gone through devastating calamities, especially in the Visayas. He comes to confirm us in our faith as we face the challenges of witnessing the Joy of the Gospel in the midst of our trials. This is an eloquent way of showing mercy and compassion,” Archbishop Villegas said.

Filipinos as a preparation for the papal visit resolve to make an act of mercy everyday, such as giving food to the hungry, helping build homes for the disaster victims, visiting prisoners or patients in the charity ward of hospitals, drug rehabilitation centers, homes for the elderly, and orphanages.  It is a time to re-learn and live the Spiritual and Corporal Acts of Mercy.  Further, the bishops encourage us to meet Christ, Mercy Himself, in the Tribunal of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  There, in the person of the priest, He awaits us with open arms to show us His mercy, compassion and love.

“Let us make mercy our national identity. Trust in God’s mercy is part and parcel of our traditional Filipino Christian culture. Let us make the practice of mercy our gift to the pope when he comes to visit us,” the CBCP president said at that time.


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The Papal visit Itinerary

His Holiness Pope Francis will bring his message of “mercy and compassion” to at least 11 different venues in the province of Leyte and Metro Manila during his Apostolic Visit to the Philippines on January 15-19, 2015.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Manila from Sri Lanka, the first leg of his Asian trip, by plane past 5 p.m. on January 15, and will go on a motorcade to his official residence in the Philippines. The following morning, January 16, Pope Francis will be officially welcomed by President Benigno S. Aquino III at Malacañan Palace on J. P. Laurel Street in Manila. The Pope will also meet Philippine authorities and members of the diplomatic corps.

After the Palace reception, Pope Francis will go on a motorcade to the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral) in Intramuros for a Mass with bishops, priests, and women and men religious. Later, he will have an encounter with families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.

In Leyte Province in Eastern Visayas, Pope Francis will visit the Archdiocese of Palo. He will offer Mass near Tacloban Airport  in the morning of January 17 and will have lunch with the poor and survivors of natural calamities at the residence of the Archbishop of Palo. Afterwards he will bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, and visit the Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration (Palo Cathedral) to meet with priests and women and men religious.

On January 18, the Pope will meet religious leaders and young people at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila. In the afternoon, he will go on a motorcade for the Concluding Mass at Quirino Grandstand in Rizal (Luneta) Park.

Pope Francis will leave for Rome on January 19.



15-19 JANUARY 2015

Thursday 15 January 2015
17:45 Arrival at Villamor Air Base in Manila
Friday 16 January 2015
09:15 WELCOME CEREMONY at the Malacañan Palace
10:15 MEETING WITH THE AUTHORITIES and the DIPLOMATIC CORPS at the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of the Presidential Palace
11:15 HOLY MASS with the bishops, priests, women and men religious at the Cathedral – Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Manila
17:30 MEETING with the FAMILIES at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila
Saturday 17 January 2015
08:15 Departure by plane from Manila for Tacloban
09:30 Arrival at the airport of Tacloban
10:00 HOLY MASS near Tacloban International Airport
12:45 Lunch with some of the survivors of typhoon Yolanda at the Archbishop’s Residence in Palo
15:00 Blessing of the Pope Francis Center for the Poor
15:30 MEETING with the Priests, Women and Men Religious, Seminarians and Families of the Survivors at the Cathedral of Palo
17:00 Departure by plane for Manila
18:15 Arrival at Villamor Air Base in Manila
Sunday 18 January 2015
09:45 Brief Meeting with the Religious Leaders of the Philippines at thePontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila
10:30 MEETING WITH THE YOUTH at the Sports Field of the University
15:30 HOLY MASS at Rizal Park in Manila
Monday 19 January 2015
09:45 Leave Taking Ceremony at the Presidential Pavilion of Villamor Air Base in Manila
10:00 Departure by plane from Manila for Rome
17:40 Arrival at the airport of Rome/Ciampino

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