Pope Francis arrives in Philippines
Louis Bacani (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2015 - 5:35pm

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED 7:30 p.m.) - Pope Francis is now in the Philippines for his historic state and apostolic visit.

The plane carrying Pope Francis arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at 5:32 p.m. The Pope just came from his two-day visit to Sri Lanka.

Before stepping out of the plane, the Pope was seen peering out of his window several times as the crowd cheered excitedly.

The pope was all smiles while waving on top of the jet's steps even if the wind blew away his skullcap.

President Benigno Aquino III led the nation in welcoming the pope, along with 12 government officials and 12 clergymen.

"Our nation is honored to welcome His Holiness Pope Francis as he joins the Filipino people for an apostolic visit," Aquino said in a statement ahead of the pontiff's arrival. "This is a momentous occasion for us. We shall be in the presence of the Vicar of Christ, a man who leads the Catholic Church along the path of mercy and compassion."

Two children were also among those to first welcome the pope. They offered flowers and were able to hug him.

Among those who personally greeted and shook hands with the Pope were Vice President Jejomar Binay, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

It was a festive atmosphere at the Villamor Airbase as 1,200 Filipino youth from Catholic schools and parishes performed a 15-minute series of dances to welcome the Pope. They pumped their raised palms to the air and waved white flags to rhythmic music about peace and "Papa Francisco."

One of them, 14-year-old Alaiza Barrientos, told the Associated Press that she wished her encounter with the pontiff would help realize her prayers for the recovery of her ailing grandmother.

"I'm happy that I will see the pope because I think all my wishes will come true," said Barrientos, part of a 164-member parish dance troupe. "I am praying for several wishes including good health for my grandmother who was found to have a tumor in her spinal cord."

Pope Francis did not give a public statement upon his arrival. After a brief stay at the Kalayaan Lounge of the Villamor Airbase, he proceeded to the pope mobile for his first motorcade here, heading to his official residence at the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft Avenue in Manila.

Several roads were closed for his motorcade but excited crowds lined up along the papal route to personally see the man hailed as the people's pope.

Pope Francis did not seem to be tired as he stood aboard the pope mobile during his entire motorcade, cheerfully waving at the Filipinos raring to catch a glimpse of him.

For Precy Asistio, a 60-year-old who waited near the Apostolic Nunciature, just a wave from the pontiff will make her day.

"We're waiting for Pope Francis so we can be blessed," Asistio said. "Once we see him, we'll go home already, as long as he waves at us."

The non-bullet-proof pope mobile arrived at the Apostolic Nunciature shortly before 7 p.m. There was no untoward incident as the crowds appeared to be disciplined in welcoming the pope.

Pope Francis is the first pontiff to visit this predominantly Catholic nation in 20 years.

During his five-day visit, which has the theme "Mercy and Compassion," the pope will be meeting with the nation's religious leaders, youth, and families in various activities.

The highlights of his trip include a meeting with Aquino in Malacañang Palace tomorrow, his interaction with the typhoon victims in Tacloban and Palo, Leyte, and a holy mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park which is expected to draw millions.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, archbishop of Manila, said he hoped the widely-awaited visit by Francis, the first Latin American head of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Christian community, would be festive and spiritually uplifting and nurture compassion at a time when the country is still recovering from recent deadly disasters, including Typhoon Yolanda.

"It's like a big, big, big, big national fiesta," a beaming Tagle told The Associated Press in an interview on the eve of the pope's arrival. The visit, he said, "comes at that point when people would really be helped by a moral and spiritual boost coming from someone who really cares."

The government has declared national holidays during the pope's visit, which runs through Monday. -with the Associated Press

ALAIZA BARRIENTOS APOSTOLIC NUNCIATURE AQUINO ASSOCIATED PRESS CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH FRANCIS POPE POPE FRANCIS VISIT
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