Now it’s definite. On his flight back to Rome, after a gruelling Holy Land trip, Pope Francis confirmed he plans to visit the Philippines, come January 2015.
“With regard to Asia, two trips are planned,” Francis said, according to the Vatican Information Service. One will be to South Korea where he’ll meet young Asians. The other will be “a two-day trip to Sri Lanka, then on to the Philippines, to the areas affected by the typhoon.”
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said the Pope – who stresses the need to reach out to the world’s “peripheries” – wants to visit areas hit by disasters such as Supertyphoon Yolanda and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the Visayas.
Francis seeks to “come close to the people who suffered from the recent typhoon and the earthquake,” Tagle added in an interview at a stopover at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “He’d want that to be a defining character of his trip.
Francis’ visit ought to be a barn-burner of a trip, John Allen of Boston Globe wrote. When (now Saint) John Paul visited Manila for World Youth Day in 1995, he drew a crowd estimated at around 4 million plus. That made it among the largest Christian gatherings of all time. And there’s no reason to assume the turnout would be any less massive now.
The Philippines remains one of the most profoundly Catholic nations. Street signs in downtown Manila, for instance, read “Caution: Masses and Prayers Always in Progress.” And even commercial shopping malls have chapels with several daily services.
Some basic figures on the country that Francis will find waiting. As of 2014, population here was estimated to crest at 100,617,630. That’s quintuple that the 1940 census.
The next census is due 2015. Bracketed between Mexico and Ethopia, that makes the Philippines the 12th most populated country in the world. Its people send two billion text messages a day — a world record.
Islam and Christianity were introduced upon an indigenous religious base in the Philippines, an Asia Society paper notes. Beginning in 1350, Islam spread from Indonesia into the Philippines. Magellan in 1521 brought Catholicism first into Cebu. People later were resettled from dispersed hamlets and brought “debajo de las companas” (under the bells), into Spanish organized pueblos.
This set a pattern that is still evident in today’s towns.
“The results of 400 years of Catholicism were mixed — ranging from a deep theological understanding by the educated elite to a more superficial understanding by the rural and urban masses. The latter is commonly referred to as Filipino folk Christianity, combining a surface veneer of Christian monotheism and dogma with indigenous animism.”
Here is a breakdown of faiths today: Roman Catholic — 80.9 percent; Muslim — 5 percent; Evangelical — 2.8 percent; Iglesia ni Kristo — 2.3 percent; , Aglipayan — 2 percent; other Christian — 4.5%.
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Paul VI, visited the Philippines in November 1970. At the Manila International Airport, a Peruvian psychopath Benjamin Mendoza, garbed in a priest’s cassock, tried to stab him. He was foiled by the prelate’s personal secretary Pasquale Macchi.
The then martial law-censored press tried to peddle the story that it was President Ferdinand Marcos who grabbed the knife. No one bought the claim. Mendoza was sentenced to 38 months in prison for attempted murder and deported to Bolivia in 1974.
The Vatican will beatify Pope Paul VI on October 19, after recognizing a ‘miracle’ where he cured an unborn baby, Italian news agency ANSA reported. This leaves him one step from sainthood. The apparent miracle was identified by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Paul VI was praised for his efforts to seek closer ties with other Christian denominations but his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, was controversial for spelling out a ban on all forms of artificial contraception. The application for beatification was begun in 1993.
Pope Francis will find his flock welcoming -— and also troubled. On Sundays, churches are bursting at the seams. But more do not attend mass. Only six percent of young Filipinos today received “significant religious instruction,” a Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines study showed. “Filipino youth are not turning away from their faith, Filipino theologian Cataliono Arevalo wrote earlier, they are simply not being reached.”
An estimated 560 thousand illicit abortions occur every year, given lack of access to family planning information and services, the Catholic sociologist Mary Racelis notes. Of all married women, 63 percent do not want to get pregnant anymore; for those who already have three children, the rate jumps to 81 percent.
The overwhelming number of maternal deaths — far higher than the rest of Southeast Asia — thus challenges the credibility of church leaders arguing against the RH law.
There is new leadership emerging in the Philippine church. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and the new Catholic Bishops Conference president Socrates Villegas. And reforms are taking root in churches that, for example, shun threats of excommunication. Instead of allowing rich parishes to dominate, a uniform pattern of compensation for priests is emerging.
“Don’t get tired of bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the young people and the family,” Francis said in his video message for the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization at the University of Santo Tomas. Wait until Francis repeats that here at home.