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The Pope is in town


Thierry Ehrmann under a Creative Commons Licence

Filipinos rolled the red carpet for Pope Francis, greeting him with shouts of euphoria, tears of joy and overwhelming emotions, a fitting welcome to a global rockstar who is visiting the Philippines at a very challenging time.

The Pontiff arrived from Sri Lanka at 5:30 p.m. on 15 January, at the country’s Villamor Airbase, where President Benigno Aquino III and members of his Cabinet welcomed him, together with a strong afternoon breeze that blew his white zucchetto or skull cap.

Pope Francis’ visit comes at a time when deep seated problems of inequality, corruption and poverty still hound this predominantly Catholic nation of 100 million people, a quarter of whom live below the poverty line, on less than 1$ a day.

True enough, in his first major speech of what is a five-day visit to the Philippines, Francis called on leaders of this graft-ridden country to put an end ‘to scandalous inequalities.’

‘As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good,’ he said at the Presidential Palace.

‘The great biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glory, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities,’ Francis also said.

In his Homily at the Manila Cathedral on Friday after his speech in Malacanang, Francis also urged Filipinos to fight inequality and injustice.

‘As the Bishops of the Philippines have rightly taught, the Church in the Philippines is called to acknowledge and combat the causes of the deeply rooted inequality and injustice which mar the face of Filipino society, plainly contradicting the teaching of Christ.  The Gospel calls individual Christians to live lives of honesty, integrity and concern for the common good,’ he said.

The Pope urged young priests, seminarians and the religious to ‘share the joy and enthusiasm of the love for Christ and the Church.’ ‘Be present to young people who may be confused and despondent, yet continue to see the Church as their friend on the journey and a source of hope.  Be present to those who, living in the midst of a society burdened by poverty and corruption, are broken in spirit, tempted to give up, to leave school and to live on the streets,’ he said.

He went on to challenge everyone to reject all forms of corruption, saying that this diverts resources from the poor.

Tens of thousands of Fiilipinos gathered along the route the Pope would be taking, who traveled around the city in either an open pope mobile or a black car and a tightly guarded convoy of vehicles.

Also high on his agenda is a trip to Tacloban and Palo, Leyte, in the southern Philippines, to meet with the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, which struck the country last year and left at least 7,000 people dead.

‘An occasion for this coming of the Pope is the tragedy of the hurricane and to encourage all people there who have suffered and suffered still,’ said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson.

Residents of Leyte are all eager to see the Pope, some even planning to brave the mammoth crowd and attend the mass he will be celebrating.

Liezl Corales, a 30-year old massage therapist, said she may have to skip work to witness history.

‘I will definitely be there with my son,’ said Corales, who wants to thank the Roman Catholic Pope for what she considers her miraculous survival from the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

On 8 November 2013, when the typhoon struck, Corales clutched her then 6-year old son on her right arm and held on to a piece of metal with her other hand for hours while flash floods whipped through the school where they had sought shelter the night before.

In Manila, tens of thousands of Filipinos have gathered, some waiting for hours on end to catch a glimpse of the man in white.

Emilio Usig, a 57-year old devout Catholic, joined the Manila crowd.

‘I am very happy to see him. I am overwhelmed. I cannot explain my happiness,’ he said.

As I write this, the Pope has just finished celebrating mass at the centuries-old Manila Cathedral. The estimated 12,000-strong crowd that gathered to hear him is still euphoric.

One can only hope that amidst the euphoria and the festivity of the papal visit, his words will hit right into the heart of each and every Filipino, especially the country’s leaders, whose positions in power can play a big role in eradicating poverty.

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