Church bells tolled across Philippines on Thursday as Pope Francis arrived at the Catholic Church's chaotic Asian heartland as part of his Asia tour. The head of the Catholic Church was welcomed by President Benigno Aquino at the Manila airport, followed by a welcome ceremony at Manila's Villamor air base and a motorcade to Pope's official residence.
Hundreds of millions of his well-wishers gathered to catch a glimpse of the Pope, according to BBC. The 80 million Roman Catholics living in the nation were ecstatic by his arrival, with most of them going in person to witness his arrival and chant "Welcome Pope Francis."
Pope Francis, who is the fourth Pope to visit the heartland of the Catholic Church in Asia, will be given tight security, considering the country's history of failed attempts to murder two previous Popes.
"Every step he makes, every car ride he takes, every moment he stays with us is precious for us," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. "Seeing him pass by is a grace."
Channel News Asia predicts that the Pope's five-day visit would attract a world-record papal crowd. The charismatic pontiff is scheduled to conduct as open-air mass on Sunday at Rizal Park in Manila. The organisers of the massive event are anticipating a turnout of six million devotees, despite a rain forecast and security concerns.
If the crowd is as huge as expected, it will surpass the previous record for a papal gathering of five million during a mass by John Paul II at the same venue in 1995.
People will be herded into grids at the Luneta during this weekend's mass pic.twitter.com/dlO34uqLwR
— ABS-CBN News Channel (@ANCALERTS) January 14, 2015
A major highlight of the Pope's visit besides the Sunday mass is the scheduled visit to Tacloban, where he would meet the survivors of the devastating typhoon Haiyan, also known as typhoon Yolanda, of November 2013. According to reports, at least 7,350 people went missing or were killed when the super-typhoon struck Philippines.
In accordance with the theme of his Asia visit, "mercy and compassion," Pope Francis wants to meet with the survivors, deliver a mass to tens of thousands of people in Tacloban on Saturday and take part in an intimate lunch with 30 typhoon survivors.
Live streaming of the Sunday Mass and other events in Pope Francis' itinerary will be done by 'The Papal Visit" website.