MANILA (AFP) – Pope Francis will bring a message of hope when he visits the Philippines in January, Church officials said Friday, on a trip that will see him tour areas devastated by last year’s super typhoon.
Millions in the fervently Catholic country are expected to turn out to catch a glimpse of the pontiff during his five-day visit, with officials planning tight security.
The pontiff will celebrate mass in the capital Manila as well as the central city of Tacloban, which was hard hit when Super Typhoon Haiyan swept in a year ago leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing and condemning millions more to deeper poverty.
“He will come to bring the message of solidarity and hope,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle told reporters late Friday.
“He really admires the faith and resilience of the survivors.”
Authorities are preparing for unruly crowds as Filipinos have been known to hurl themselves at religious icons during frantic processions, said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who is overseeing government preparations for the visit.
“We are a bit worried about such behavior – this is a living image of God,” he said.
Ochoa declined to elaborate on planned security measures and refused to discuss any specific threats that authorities are worried about.
But he insisted the government would ensure the safety of the 77-year-old pontiff.
“Ninety-five percent of government preparations is all about security,” he said. “We want to make sure that the pope is safe.”
President Benigno Aquino will greet the pope when he arrives at Manila airport from Sri Lanka on January 15, his protocol officer Marciano Paynor said – a break from usual protocol, as the president usually only welcomes world leaders at his palace.
Francis will be accorded state honours at the palace in Manila the next day before celebrating mass in one of the country’s oldest churches and meeting with families at a large indoor stadium, Tagle said.
Francis will spend the whole of January 17 in Haiyan-devastated Leyte province where he will celebrate mass in Tacloban and meet with the faithful in the neighboring Palo town.
The following day he will meet with youngsters at Manila’s largest Catholic university, then celebrate mass at the capital’s Rizal Park, which can accommodate millions, Tagle added.
The late John Paul II made the last papal visit to the Philippines, in 1995.