Fr. Marcello Pondoc attended the Philippines World Youth Day with St. John Paul II in 1995, and 20 years later will participate in Pope Francis' visit as a concelebrating priest at Friday's papal Mass.

"(The visit of Pope Francis) is a great blessing, just like the visit of St. John Paul II in 1995. That was for World Youth Day. I was there, and now I am very lucky to be one of the concelebrants of this Mass tomorrow in the Manila cathedral," Fr. Pondoc told CNA Jan. 15.

Currently serving in the Diocese of Butuan, which is located in the southern part of the Philippine Islands, Fr. Pondoc arrived in Manila two days ago and is assisting in preparations ahead of tomorrow's Mass with the country's bishops, priests and religious at Manila's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Francis' Jan. 15-19 trip to the Philippines holds the theme "Mercy and Compassion," and falls just after a two day visit to Sri Lanka, during which he encouraged locals to work for peace and reconciliation, and voiced his opposition to using religion as a "weapon of war."

Fr. Pondoc explained that the Pope's visit "is very meaningful for us religious and priests – our encounter with the Pope is like encountering Christ, since he is the Vicar of Christ."

The words and actions of the Pope will have a nationwide impact he said, explaining that the trip, particularly tomorrow's Mass with the country's bishops, priests and religious, will also help him to deepen in his vocation to the priesthood.

Pope Francis' presence, he said, "helps to deepen our faith in Christ, (and) also myself as a priest, (with) a vocation to the priesthood and the service and ministry of the priesthood for the Church and for the people."

As one of the many concelebrating priests at tomorrow's Mass, Fr. Pondoc will have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis personally, and offer him a brief greeting.

"To encounter and meet the Vicar of Christ is a symbol of our unity in the Catholic Church," the priest observed, saying that it serves as a particular sign of the unity between the Church in the Philippines and the Church of Rome.

"I'm excited to see and meet the Pope, and concelebrate the Mass in Latin."

Pope Francis is the third Roman Pontiff to visit the Philippines, the first being Bl. Paul VI in 1970, who was followed by St. John Paul II in both 1981 and in 1995.

As the only majority Christian nation in the far east, the Philippines is an important place for popes to come, the priest noted, explaining that "it is a very meaningful and historic event for us to have the Pope visit here."

Since the time for the papal voyage's theme of "Mercy and Compassion" was announced the country has been preparing spiritually, he said, noting that this preparation has included an emphasis on the poor.

A main goal has been "to show our compassion and mercy especially to the least, the most poor and less fortunate in our society," Fr. Pondoc observed, saying that the Pope's presence in Tacloban, which has been ravaged by two typhoons in the last year, "is also important."