Pope Francis waves Photo by Reuters
MANILA (UPDATED) - Roman Catholic church leaders announced on Tuesday that Pope Francis will visit the Philippines on January 15 to 19 next year.
In a press conference at the Arzobispado de Manila, Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said “his holiness Pope Francis will make his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka on January 12 to 15 and to the Philippines on January 15 to 19, 2015.”
In a sign of joy, Tagle ended his initial statement with, “Thanks be to God!”
Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, the current nuncio to the Philippines, described the visit as a “spiritual typhoon.”
Tagle said the Vatican will announce the details of the visit before the end of the year, but reiterated previous statements that Pope Francis wants to visit areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.
On reports that Francis will hold a youth rally at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila, Tagle could only say that in "past visits of popes in the Philippines, UST has always figured as one of the sites.”
Preparations are now under way for the Pope's visit, with the national government also taking the lead.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino has appointed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. as the lead point person in helping the papal visit committee.
He said the government expects the Filipinos to “accord [Pope Francis] the warmth of their hospitality and manifest the fervor of their faith as they welcome the first pontiff from South America.”
The visit of Pope Francis also coincides with the 20th anniversary of World Youth Day Philippines, which took place in Manila on January 10 to 15, 1995.
Asked what Filipinos can do to prepare for the visit, Tagle said: “We could prepare best by undergoing spiritual renewal, tasting the mercy of God, returning to God through the sacrament of reconciliation.”
He also urged Filipinos to engage in “specific actions of mercy.”
He reminded Catholics of the unique style of Pope Francis, which was already obvious on the first day of his papacy.
“He wants to journey with the people where they are,” he said.
Tagle noted that when Pope Francis blessed the mosaic of St. Pedro Calungsod at St. Peter’s Basilica back in November, he took time to include Filipinos in his prayers.
“It was not just a blessing of an icon… During that event, he said plainly that he was one with the suffering of the people and that we should not be afraid to ask God: Why?” he said.
Filipinos should not be afraid to show Pope Francis their worth, he said. “We show him who we truly are: the resilience of Filipinos, [full of] faith, compassion, and bottomless hope.”