A small Filipino community in Israel has expressed their joy that Pope Francis will travel to their country next January, stating they hope his presence will bring peace and heal divisions.
“We are blessed that he will go to our place. We are so happy, absolutely blessed,” Mercy Agosta told CNA May 25, adding that “It’s also a blessing for us because for Filipinos it’s hard to go to Rome.”
Originally hailing from Isabela, Philippines, Agosta has been living in Tel Aviv, Israel for 11 years and was present in Bethlehem’s Manger Square along with the organization “Pilgrimage for a Cause” to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis during his three day trip to the Holy Land.
Leading their first trip in 1997, “Pilgrimage for a Cause” was established by Filipina domestic workers and organizes Christmas pilgrimages to Bethlehem each year through their parish, St. Anthony in Tel Aviv.
The organization, who charges extra to participate in the visits in order to send money to poor communities in the Philippines, rented four tour buses and sold tickets to pilgrims who wanted to go the Pope’s Mass. Proceeds will go directly to aid needy and abandoned children in the Philippines, as well as basic repairs for their parish.
Among the other members of the Filipino community gathered for the papal Mass was Claudia, who has been living in Tel Aviv for seven years.
Regarding the Pope’s upcoming visit to her country, she explained that “we feel that he is the head of us” and “we hope that he brings a lot of understanding because a lot of people are lost.”
“Sometimes they lose their religion and their humanity” Claudia observed, giving note to ongoing territorial tensions between the government and the Muslim community in Mindanao, “so we want him when he goes there, to help reunite all the groups, and peace.”
“We hope that those Arabs, Muslims and Christians can be reunited. We pray.”
Pope Francis officially announced his two day visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, slated to occur in January 2015, to journalists during an in-flight news conference May 26 on his way back from the Holy Land, Italian newspaper La Stampa reports.
The visit comes as a response to the request of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, who had invited Pope Francis to visit the country in February.
Regarding the Roman Pontiff’s presence in the Holy Land, Agosta stated that their hope for the outcome of his pilgrimage will be “Peace, peace, peace.”
“For prosperity and love in all the nations” she added, recalling how they prayed the rosary together for peace in the bus on the way over. “We really want peace, and mostly in the Palestinian territory.”