YEARENDER: Catholic church busy preparing for papal visit

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January 2015 kept the Catholic church on its toes during the last six months of 2014.

After Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle announced on July 29 that the 78-year-old Argentine pope was coming to the country on Jan. 15-19, seemingly endless meetings and preparations for the papal visit started.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines secretary general Fr. Marvin Mejia could not say how far the CBCP has gone in the preparations, “but the essential elements are in place. The people have been assigned and committees have been made.”

The CBCP is preoccupied with the liturgical preparations, the pope’s transportation, his meals and the place where he will stay.

Malacañang, for its part, is ensuring the security of Pope Francis. Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said that 95 percent of the national government’s preparation is centered on security.

Pope Francis will arrive on Jan. 15 at 5:45 p.m. at Villamor Air Base. He is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Aquino at Malacañang and make a day trip to Tacloban City and Palo town in Leyte, areas devastated by the Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.

Being one with victims of calamities is one of Pope Francis’ main reasons for visiting the country.

Pope Francis is also scheduled to hold two public masses, one near the Tacloban airport on Jan. 17 and another in Rizal Park on Jan. 18.

Authorities are expecting to have a hard time securing the pontiff. Pope Francis likes to get close to the people. In one instance, he made an unscheduled stop along the road to kiss a sick person and shake the hands of onlookers.

During his visit to the country, the holy father will be using an open and non-bulletproof popemobile to show to the people that the Catholic Church is open and accessible to all.

Authorities have likened the papal visit to the procession of the Black Nazarene, where people are expected to try to climb the barricades and scramble to get close to the pope.

The year 2014 was also a momentous year for the two dead popes who also visited the Philippines. Pope Francis canonized Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII last April 27 at Vatican City.

Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines twice – in February 1981 when he beatified the first Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz and in January 1995 for World Youth Day.

Pope Paul VI came to the country in November 1970. He was the target of an assassination attempt at the Manila International Airport by Bolivian painter Benjamin Mendoza, who dressed as a priest. But Mendoza was subdued by the pope’s personal secretary.

Another highlight of 2014 was the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) on the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

Mejia said that while the ruling said the law was constitutional, there were controversial segments in the law that were said to be unconstitutional.

The SC struck down section 7 of the law, which provides power to the government to oblige private hospitals and those owned by religious groups to refer patients to other facilities that offer reproductive health services.

Another provision in the same section – allowing minors to avail of family planning services without parental consent if they have already given birth or suffered a miscarriage – was also declared unconstitutional.

“Some portray it as a defeat of the church and the victory of the RH. But during the retreat last July of the bishops, they prayed and invited experts. The experts said it was not a loss to the Catholic Church. Those provisions the anti-RH groups were fighting for were given,” Mejia said.










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