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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