'It's like Jesus is coming to the Philippines': Frenzy builds over Francis

'It's like Jesus is coming to the Philippines': Frenzy builds over Francis

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square after Vespers on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2014. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square after Vespers on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2014. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- A priest on the papal flight for Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the Philippines said the country is anxiously awaiting the pontiff and is anticipating his paternal closeness with those who suffer.

“For us Filipinos, (the Pope) is really the representative of Jesus on earth, so it's like Jesus (is) coming to the Philippines,” Father Gregory Gaston told CNA Dec. 9.

Local faithful truly view the Pope “as a father, so it's like a father visiting his children,” he said. “The people will listen to him, the people will try to see him as much as they can and experience his message of mercy and compassion.”

Fr. Gaston, who currently serves as rector for the Pontifical Filipino College, will accompany Pope Francis on his flights to and from his Jan. 12-19 visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines as a media correspondent for the Philippine Catholic radio station “Radyo Veritas.”

The priest currently speaks with the station on a weekly basis for their nationwide broadcast.

With many people in the Philippines currently suffering in either a material, financial or physical way, the Pope's visit promises to be “an uplifting of their spiritual perspective,” Fr. Gaston said.

He referred to how Pope Francis, in addition to his time in the Philippine capital of Manila, will visit the eastern city of Tacloban, which has been devastated by two hurricanes since last year.

Super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the country just over a year ago, in November 2013, claiming the lives of around 6,000 people, while another typhoon, Hagupit, tore through the eastern islands of the Philippines this past December, causing even more devastation.

In his Jan. 17 visit to Tacloban, the Pope will celebrate mass after arriving, and will then have lunch with survivors of typhoon Yolanda. Afterward he will go on to bless the city's “Pope Francis Center for the Poor” and will hold mass for priests, religious, seminarians and families of the typhoon survivors.

Fr. Gaston observed how Pope Francis is also slated to meet with victims of recent earthquakes in the surrounding areas, and referred to the encounters as “symbolic.”

Although Pope Francis will only be visiting “a specific island, he'll actually be visiting everyone, all those (who are) suffering,” the priest said. He noted how during certain meetings, people representing cities from all over the country will have the opportunity to meet and visit with the Pope.

“The theme of the visit is 'Mercy and Compassion,' so people will be experiencing and will try to experience this mercy of God, compassion of God, especially since many Filipinos are suffering in one way or another.”

As his second trip to Asia in six months, Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines is also a sign of the continent's potential in terms of faith and Christianity, Fr. Gaston said. The majority of Asia's Catholic population, he added, live in the Philippines.

He pointed out how the mayor of Manila, Joseph Estrada, declared a 5-day, non-working holiday for the duration of the Pope's visit due to safety and security concerns with the large number of pilgrims expected to come.

The move has also been credited in part as being made in order to allow Catholics to participate in the papal activities.

The institution of the holiday, Fr. Gaston said, shows “how much we appreciate the Pope himself.” Although the holidays were primarily declared for logistical purposes, “it also shows how high our regard, our esteem for the Holy Father is.”

Tags: Pope Francis, Pope in Philippines

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