Saturday, January 10, 2015

Preparations for visit of Pope Francis reach fever pitch

Note:  This photo-essay was featured in pages 1 and 10 of the 09-15 Jan 2015 issue of FilAm Star, the 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA, The author/blogger is the Philippine-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper. The pdf version of the issue can be retrieved from

This streamer with the logo and theme of the papal visit 
features the portrait of Pope Francis as a young man.
The two-hour Mass of Mercy and Compassion at the Quirino Grandstand of Rizal Park at 3:30 PM on Sunday, January 18 will be the culmination of the apostolic visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines on 15-19 January 2015.  

The Mass is the only papal event that will be open to the public. All other events in Manila, all on 16 January, are invitational: the courtesy visit to President Benigno Aquino III and meeting with the diplomatic corps in Malacañang; mass with bishops, priests, and religious men and women at the Manila Cathedral; and meeting with families at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

On the 18th, before the Mass at Rizal Park, Pope Francis will meet with religious leaders in front of the 400-year old Arch of the Centuries and with 24,000 representatives of the youth sector at the grandstand and open field of Pontifical University of Santo Tomas.  

The public will have opportunity to get a glimpse of the pope during the motorcade from UST to the Rizal Park where around 1.2-million faithful are expected to converge.  Considering the ebb and flow of the crowd to and from the venue, the figure could reach 5-million, according to Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Office, which was the count during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1995.

According to the church leaders, Pope Francis requested that he be allowed to roam around Rizal Park to greet and bless the people before he celebrates the Mass, as he is wont to do in Rome.

A mural of the five Popes who have blessed the
Manila Cathedral-Basilica done by Gruppo Biswal.
Rev. Rufino Sescon Jr., executive secretary of the papal visit committee, informed that the papal route around the park (Kalaw, Maria Orosa, Padre Burgos avenues, Roxas Boulevard and the South Road) to the grandstand is being demarcated with concrete barriers by the Department of Public Works and Highways together with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to ensure the safety of the pope. Because of their experience in managing the feast of the Black Nazarene, the Hijos de Nazareno of Quiapo have also been asked to assist in crowd control in designated areas around Rizal Park during the event. 

At the Mass venue, areas have been designated for 500 representatives each from various sectors such as the people with disabilities, urban poor, religious community, lay leaders and youth, and representatives for government.  All bishops had been asked to send representatives from the marginalized sector in their parishes.

Since the Mass coincides with the feast of the Sto Niño, according to Fr. Carmelo Arada, Jr. of the Service Committee on Liturgy, it will be in character to welcome Pope Francis with a Sinulog dance as he moves around Rizal Park blessing the people.  Participants from Cebu will lead the dancing, and he asked the people to bring their own images of the Sto. Niño for this welcome gesture.

The Pontiff will say the Mass on an altar designed “to bring the Philippines and its elements close to [him]” in the words of Fr. Alex O. Bautista, architect/designer of the altar and papal chair.  “The [design] concept is to serve liturgical purpose ... have Filipino character and reflect the simplicity of [Pope Francis],” he said.

There will be no flower decorations. Instead, the San Francisco and pandan plants, which are very common in many Philippine backyards, will be used to adorn the altar. The pandan plants recall the iconic Nuestra Señora de Guia image atop a cluster of pandan plants. The canopy will use decorative bamboo handicrafts from Bulacan. 

Pope Francis’s affection for children is the subject of this 
painting by a Gruppo Biswal artist.
Fr. Bautista described the altar table as an image of hands lifted up in prayer and offering. The decoration is inspired by the anahaw leaf, which, he said, symbolizes the strength of the Filipino people.  The marble top is from Romblon, and this will be covered with piña cloth from Bulacan.

The papal chair will also blend Filipino elements like the guava fruit and anahaw leaf with the papal coat of arms. A small shepherd with the words “Ang Mabuting Pastol” (The Good Shepherd) will be carved on top of the seat’s backrest, reflective of the “Mercy and Compassion” theme.

The Pontiff will concelebrate the Mass with 2,500 priests and 200 bishops. While it will be in English based on the third edition of the Roman Missal, it will essentially be multilingual using the seven major Filipino languages.

Pope Francis will lead the Profession of the Faith (recitation of the Apostle’s Creed) in Filipino. Representatives of the urban poor, religious, youth, professionals, and government will read the prayers of the faithful in different Filipino languages. A blind person and a Grade VII student from the Guadalupe Seminary will be two of the readers.

The Mass songs composed by Fr. Manoling Francisco, S.J., are also multilingual. He fused Western music with Filipino indigenous rhythms like those of the Kalinga and the Singkil, and the melodic and chord patterns of the kundiman.  The song ‘Glory to God’, for example, has the antiphon in English, verse 1 is ala Kalinga, verse 2 in Filipino, and verse 3 ala Singkil. ‘Tinapay ng Buhay’ has lyrics in Latin, English, Spanish, Filipino and two other local languages.

Concrete barriers installed along the route of the 
papal motorcade.
A choir of 1,000 voices from various parishes will lead the singing with accompaniment from a 200-member orchestra. 

The Mass will be capped with the lighting of candles and the singing of the 1995 World Youth Day song ‘Tell the World of His Love.’  This is why the people are asked to bring candles. Pope John Paul II led that World Youth Day celebration here in Manila twenty years ago.

For those who would not be able to get a good view of the Mass, 18 giant LED screens will be installed.

The millions of Filipinos at Rizal Park and those who will watch multi-media live coverage of the Mass will certainly give the Argentinian Pontiff full attention for ten minutes when he delivers his homily, his address to the Filipino people, presumably on “Mercy and Compassion” in the manner that has struck the hearts and minds of listeners worldwide. 

Being buddy with the Pope through his standee at the Archdiocese of Manila building. 

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