MANILA – Pope Francis is trying to learn some Tagalog ahead of his visit this week to the Philippines, Asia's bastion of Catholicism, a report by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said.
CBCP News said Rome-based Bro. Francis Dominic Vergara of Congregation of the Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate revealed that the Supreme Pontiff is trying to learn some basic Tagalog phrases.
“We have the chance to meet him person to person so there, it was a feeling of joy…We were able to talk with him that’s why before that day, I practiced my Italian, what I would tell him…He asked me if I spoke Tagalog. He said, 'You speak Tagalog?' I said, 'Yes!' Then he said, 'I'm trying Tagalog but it’s difficult,''' Vergara told CBCP News.
CBCP News said Vergara, who studies first year Philosophy at the Pontifical University of Urbaniana, was able to talk to Pope Francis for two minutes before the pope’s Te Deum and Vespers last December 31, 2014 where 15 Filipino seminarians -- 3 of whom were deacons -- were invited to serve the pope.
Vergara said the Pope's presence is more than enough for Filipinos.
''Maybe what most are expecting is really just his presence, which many are looking for…Even if you don’t get to talk [to him], as long as he is there to Filipinos [and tell them] that 'I care for you,''' he said.
Vatican Spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi earlier said Pope Francis has been practicing his English skills in preparation for his visit to the Philippines.
Il Pontificio Collegio Filippino rector Fr. Gregory Ramon Gaston told state-run Radio Television Malacañang that Pope Francis has been studying his English speeches.
''Ang sagot ni Father Lombardi lahat (ng speeches) English. Nakahanda na lahat ng text in English. Kung may conversations, may mga tanong, sagot sa local dialects, nandoon ang mga cardinals na magtatranslate,'' he said.
''Ang nangyari ngayon, naka-prepare lahat sa English, nagpa-practice ang Pope sa pagbabasa ng babasahin niya - mga homilies -- tumutulong sa kanya ang Vatican official na in-charge sa English section."
The National Catholic Register reported that Pope Francis admitted having difficulty understanding foreign languages such as English and prefers not to speak publicly using any language other than Italian.
In his biography, Pope Francis said ''What has always caused the most problems for me has been English, especially the phonetics.''