THE VATICAN has yet to release an official announcement but Church officials are already looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the Philippines next year.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, said in an interview there were still no preparations for the 2015 papal visit, but the Pope's expression of his intention to visit was enough to spark excitement among the faithful.

Pabillo said the Pope’s arrival would channel more assistance to Leyte and other regions devastated by Typhoon “Yolanda.”

“The world will be focused on the Pope's visit so in a way, the world will also be focused on us. Hopefully, the world will be made more aware of the situation in those places and rehabilitation efforts will grow more,” he added.

Pope Francis made known his intention to visit the Philippines in a press conference aboard a flight back to Rome after a three-day visit to Israel last May 27.

According to the Vatican Information Service, the Pope will visit South Korea in August. Francis will go a two-day trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January.

Pope Francis mentioned issues like the lack of religious freedom faced by Christians in Asia as the reason for his decision to go to Asia.

“Religious freedom is something that not all countries have. Others adopt measures that lead to a real persecution of believers. There are martyrs in our times, Christian martyrs, both Catholic and non-Catholic. There are places where it is forbidden to wear a crucifix or to possess a Bible and where it is forbidden to teach the catechism to children,” the Pope said.

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Earlier this year, two Vatican officials visited the country on separate occasions. Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council for Human and Christian Development visited areas affected by the “Yolanda” last January and said the “Holy Father might come.”

The secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Bishop Jean Laffitte, attended the Asian Conference on the Family held in Manila from May 13-16 and sent the Pope's message of delight on the strength of Filipino families.

Pabillo said the CBCP would wait for further updates before making plans.

“We are not the ones who will set the agenda for the visit. The Pope will be the one to decide where he wants to go and for how long,” Pabillo said. “All that we know for now is that he intends to visit the typhoon victims. Let us not jump the gun on itineraries, let us wait for the official announcement.”

Fr. Marvin Mejia, secretary general of CBCP, said that an official statement was needed either from the papal nuncio or the Vatican itself. “We have not yet received official communication from the Nunciature and Vatican,” Mejia said in an email.

Asked whether the Pope's visit would have an impact on national issues like the Reproductive Health Law, wide-scale corruption, and the pending divorce bill, Pabilllo said the Holy Father would not meddle with national affairs.

Pabillo said the Pope’s presence and time would be enough to help people decide on crucial issues.

“Pope Francis' visit will help strengthen the faith of the people and the voice of the Church. With stronger faiths, the people can decide what to do,” Pabillo said.

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