Pope Francis has arrived in the Philippines, Asia's most populous Catholic nation. The high-point of his week-long trip is expected to be an open-air mass on Sunday at a park in Manila.
Church bells tolled across the nation as the charismatic pontiff flew into the capital of Manila on Thursday after a successful trip to Sri Lanka. Pope Francis smiled as he looked out the window of his plane upon touchdown. Hundreds of children awaited his landing to greet him with the words: "Welcome Pope Francis."
The government has declared national holidays during the pope's visit, which begins in the capital city, Manila. On Saturday, he is to fly to eastern Leyte province, where he is scheduled to meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which claimed the lives of thousands of people dead in 2013.
Pope to begin passionate, chaotic visit
Hoping for a first glimpse, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on Thursday along the route the pope was scheduled to pass along as he made his way from the airport to the Vatican's embassy.
"Every step he makes, every car ride he takes, every moment he stays with us is precious for us," Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said as he called on all Filipinos to make an effort to see him.
However, the authorities have expressed major concerns over the his security in the Philippines, where attempts have been made to kill visiting pontiffs twice before. Nearly 40,000 soldiers and police have been deployed to protect Francis in what Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang described as a "security nightmare."
High security measures
Philippine President Benigno Aquino made a nationally televised address this week specifically to highlight the security threats for the pope and call on all Filipinos to help protect him.
Adding to the concerns, the 78-year-old pontiff has insisted he will not travel in a bullet-proof "pope mobile" during his big events so he can be closer to the faithful.
Catholics make up 80 percent of the former Spanish colony's 100 million people. The pope is set to enjoy thunderously enthusiastic crowds throughout his stay.
jil/kms AP, AFP)