As dusk changed the color of the day, Pope Francis stood at the plane’s doorway, giving a cherubin smile and waving to the crowd, including President Aquino and his Cabinet, waiting for him at the tarmac of Villamor Airbase. So jubilant were the people at the tarmac that their wow almost overwhelmed the pealing of church bells.
And while Pope Francis was emerging from the plane, a strong gust of January wind blew off his skull cap, spiking the sentimental air and eliciting laughter from people who had waited for him for at least three hours. But the smiles of everyone caught by the television cameras indicate the wait was considered a supreme privilege, not a source of complaint.
And so the much-awaited event unfolded. The leader of the Catholic Church was embraced by the warm welcome – first by Mark Angelo Balberos, 10, and Lanie Ortillo, 9, who come from a children care center of Don Bosco, then from the members of the Cabinet. As Catholic custom dictates, each person in the reception line kissed the Pope’s ring, and said a few words.
Then it was the turn of the bishops to greet and welcome him. In the line of about a dozen bishops and cardinals, the Pope’s greeting to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was the highlight – Pope Francis embraced him like a dear friend.
“I am very happy to meet him. I asked him to pray that my parents would come back to us someday,” a shy Balberos said in Filipino in an interview with the Manila Bulletin.
“The Pope told me that he will pray for me,” the young boy said, showing the rosary given by the Pope. Mark, a former resident of Laguna, later admitted that he wants to be a priest someday. His encounter with the Pope has encouraged him to achieve his dream.
Lanie, who hails from Tondo, Manila, was also thrilled to meet the beloved Pope. “I finally got the chance to tell my wish that my parents, my family are okay,” she said in another interview.
Francis has said his two-nation tour is aimed at adding momentum to already impressive growth for the Church in Asia, with its support in the Philippines the benchmark for the rest of the region.
Eighty percent of the Philippines’s 100 million people practice a famously fervent brand of Catholicism, and the Pope is set to enjoy thunderously enthusiastic crowds throughout his stay.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along the route waved at Pope Francis as his convoy passed by on his way to the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican’s embassy, on Taft Avenue, Manila, to rest overnight. Not for a moment did Francis lower his arms to his side since he boarded the pope mobile.
The Pope stood on the sides of the popemobile in his effort to get closer to the thick crowd that had waited for hours to see him. The crowd, which appeared happy and satisfied after seeing Francis, dispersed after the convoy passed.
He was at some point standing on the edge of the pope mobile as he acknowledged his well-wishers who took pictures of the smiling Francis.
“It’s a blessing to see the pope. That’s why we’re here,” school teacher Jeannie Blesado, 35, told AFP as she sat on the side the road more than six hours before the pope was due to arrive.
Today, at 11:15 a.m., Pope Francis will preside over his first Eucharistic celebration in the Philippines at the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral) in Intramuros, Manila.
Priests from various parts of the country will concelebrate the mass, including Fr. Luciano Felloni of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Camarin, Caloocan City, who like Pope Francis is a native of Argentina.
Some 2,000 members of the clergy – bishops, priests, and the religious – will attend the papal mass. Around 500 seats will be reserved for the choir, medical personnel, and members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said 10 priests and five religious sisters from each of the 86 archdioceses, dioceses, and prelatures will attend the mass, which is not open to the public. But LED screens will, instead, be installed outside the church.
A 150-member choir will render 20 religious songs for the celebration, including “Ikaw ay Pedro” by Ferdinand Bautista, which will be sung during the processional as the pontiff enters the basilica.
The papal mass follows the welcome ceremonies to be tendered by President Aquino at 9:15 a.m. at the Malacañang Palace, where Pope Francis will also meet with the members of the diplomatic corps at 10:15 a.m.
Twenty-three new carillon bells will greet Pope Francis when he visits the Manila Cathedral.
The carillon bells’ playing of Papal Visit Hymn will be done as he disembarks the papal car from the Malacañang to the Manila Cathedral.
The 23 complete carillon bells were donated by Albert and Sylvia Lina of the Lina Group of Companies. The bells replaced the existing chime bells of 14 bells.
On December 11, 2014, the carillon bells were solemnly blessed and inaugurated by Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle.
Later today, Pope Francis will have a special encounter with pre-selected families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City at 5:30 p.m.
Two of the most familiar Filipino liturgical songs will be sung during his Meeting with Families. These are the “Ama Namin” (Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer) and “Ang Puso Ko’y Nagpupuri” (Magnificat).
This is in line with the papal visit committee’s thrust to make the papal encounter a multi-lingual event in order to reach out to more people. The Prayers of the Faithful to be read by selected families will be in seven dialects namely: Tagalog, Cebuano, Kapampangan, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Waray, and Bicolano, said Fr. Dennis Soriano, head of the liturgy committee,
There will also be prayers in Latin, while the homily will most likely be in English.