Students John Paul Barral, Berny Jomento and Angela Umali pose for a photo while waiting for Pope Francis’ arrival in UST. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- Before Pope Francis landed at the Villamor Air Base late afternoon on January 15, the last time the Filipinos saw a pope live in Manila was in 1995 when then Pope John Paul II attended World Youth Day.
First held in 1986, World Youth Day, which has been described as a "Catholic Woodstock," was organized by the Church as an occasion for young Catholics to strengthen and celebrate their faith along with their peers.
While Pope Francis's visit to the Philippines isn't connected to World Youth Day, which is held every three years (the next one is scheduled in 2016 in Poland), he still set aside precious time for the young people.
Pope Francis, who attended the Asian World Youth Day in South Korea last year, will have an encounter with the Filipino youth on Sunday at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) as part of the Church's efforts to "sow the seeds of faith" among "the future of the Church and the world."
This early, Christian youth formations and student groups are planning to hold a vigil outside the gates of UST, which will open to the public for by 4 a.m. on Sunday.
Since his arrival last Thursday, Filipinos have been turning out in droves for a glimpse of the popular pope, who has been described as a "rock star" by media outlets both foreign and local.
Thousands of youth are also expected to gather at UST starting Saturday night, with groups planning to fill the streets outside the university with "music and dancing" during an "overnight cultural program."
So why is Pope Francis popular among the young?
John Paul Barral, who volunteered to be part of the human barricade during the Pope's visit to UST, noted that Pope Francis is open when it comes to the various issues affecting the youth.
“Hindi niya sinasabi na pro siya, 'di naman [din] niya sinasabi na against siya. Kung baga, wala siyang bias," he said. "Minsan, kung sino pa yung makasalanan, sila pa 'yung grabe kung mang-judge ng ibang tao.”
Angela Umali, another volunteer, added that Pope Francis is very down to earth. “Para bang kahit Pope siya, alam mong nasa taas siya, pero alam mong reachable siya na tao,” she said.
Meanwhile, Einstein Recedes, spokesperson of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, one of the organizers of tonight's vigil, said they are inspired by the Pope's statements "against corruption, scandalous inequality and poverty."
“Pope Francis’ visit means very much to the Filipino youth, for here is a Pope that not only recognizes the root causes of poverty and social inequality but also believes in the vital role of young Filipinos in nation building,” Recedes said in a statement.
Volunteer Berny Jomento said she believes that the youth is a channel for the Church to reach out to a greater number of people.
“Pwede kaming mag-act as a role model for each other, lalo na sa paglaganap ng different kinds of virtues, especially 'yung kay Pope na mercy and compassion,” she said.
“Sabi nga niya, tayo 'yung help sa future. Tayo 'yung magiging future ng buong lugar natin.”
In last year's Asian World Youth Day, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, was also asked about Pope Francis's appeal to the youth.
“I think that in this contemporary time, the simplicity, the down-to-earth approach of the Holy Father and the common language that he uses to impart the message of the Gospel, I think gives some sort of universal appeal to the Word of God as transmitted to us by Jesus and the Church," Tagle told Vatican Radio.