Photo by Basilio H. Sepe

POPE Francis’ visit to the Philippines in January 2015 will also be a state visit, not just an apostolic one, government officials said.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing Monday (Dec. 29, 2014) that the Pope’s stature as the head of both the Catholic Church and Vatican City State sets the Pontiff’s courtesy call with President Benigno Aquino III apart from the usual meetings with foreign leaders.

Aquino will welcome the Pope upon his arrival at Villamor Air Base in the late afternoon of Jan. 15. The Pope will arrive at Malacañan Palace on Jan. 16 at 9:15 a.m, where he is expected to meet the diplomatic corps, cabinet members, government officials from the three branches of the government, and Aquino’s immediate family members.

“[T]his is not an ordinary meeting between two heads of state. It is simply incidental that the Pope is head of the Vatican state, but [also] the head of the Catholic Church, and the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country. So I think from those two propositions, we can infer that the common points of interest would converge along those lines and not on the usual agenda that are taken up by the president with other heads of state,” Coloma told the media at the Fr. George Willmann, S.J. Memorial Building of the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association in Manila.

“In a visit like this, where the visitor, who is a head of state, will be meeting the President, then we could say it is entirely possible that they might take up matters of state. [T]here is an opportunity for them to take up issues that are close to their hearts. At this point, we don’t see ourselves drawing any scenario that might involve political issues. We don’t see it that way from where we sit,” he said.

Coloma added that while the papal visit could bring about a festive mood, the Palace would like to keep Pope Francis’ meeting with the President simple. There will be no state lunch and performances.

“Tuwing dumadalaw ang mga Santo Papa dito masayang masaya tayo, di ba? Dahil parang ama ng ating ka-Kristiyanuhan, ama ng Simbahang Katolika, nandito, nagpapagaan palagi sa damdamin natin ‘yun,” he told the Varsitarian. “Susundin po natin ‘yung kagustuhan niya (Pope Francis). Gagawin nating simple. Kung ano ang nais ng Santo Papa, ‘yun po ang susundin natin.”

Disclosing the program of the Palace welcome ceremony, Fr. Joselito Jopson, papal visit media and information committee executive secretary, said the courtesy call would kick off with the singing of the national anthems of the Philippines and the Vatican.

The program will then proceed with Aquino introducing the Philippine delegation to Pope Francis. The Pope will also introduce the Vatican delegation–around 80 people composed of bishops, cardinals, and members of the Roman Curia, to Aquino.

President Aquino and Pope Francis will then head to the Reception Hall for the signing of the guest book. The official courtesy call will commence at the Music Room afterwards.

The two heads of state will deliver their remarks at the Ceremonial Hall before members of the diplomatic corps and members of the Senate.

At 10:45 a.m. on the same day, Pope Francis will head to the Manila Cathedral to meet bishops and the religious.

Members of the Malacañang Press Corps will cover events inside the Palace, while accredited local and foreign media can cover from the Kalayaan Hall grounds.

Philippine National Police Spokesperson Police Sr. Supt. Wilben Mayor said the government was working “1,000 percent” to ensure the safety of the Pope and the public.

Some 25,000 police personnel will be deployed to papal visit venues, Mayor said in an interview. Danielle Ann F. Gabriel and Gena Myrtle P. Terre


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