With tens of thousands of faithful lined up to welcome him, Pope Francis landed in Manila, capital of the Philippines, on Thursday.
As Reuters reports, the visit is marked by intense security, the biggest security operation of its kind in the country’s history. Reuters explains:
“The other pontiffs to visit the Philippines were both targets of assassination attempts, prompting the deployment of nearly 50,000 soldiers and police in the capital and in the central Philippine province of Leyte for his weekend trip there.
“On Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino personally inspected motorcade routes and public venues, which were lined with black-and-white concrete barriers topped by thick wire mesh to control eager crowd.
“Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas said Aquino was willing to serve as Francis’ ‘personal bodyguard’ to ensure his safety. In a televised address on Monday, Aquino appealed to Filipinos to follow security rules after two people were killed in a stampede during a religious procession on Friday.”
The plots, according to Reuters, happened in 1970, when an artist tried to stab Pope Paul VI and in 1995, when police discovered a plot to blow up Pope John Paul II.
The New York Times reports that despite the church’s waning influence in the Philippines, Pope Francis is being welcomed with “arms open wide.”
When Pope John Paul II visited, it prompted the “largest papal gathering ever.”
Some experts, reports the Times, are expecting Francis to break that record with gathering that could exceed eight million people.
“There were four million people gathered when Pope John Paul II came to Manila in 1995,” the Rev. Xavier C. Alpasa, a priest and professor at Ateneo de Manila, a Jesuit university in Manila, told the Times. “That record will be broken because of the deep spirituality of Filipino Catholics, but also because of Pope Francis himself. People are so enamored by his inclusive statements, his revolutionary ideas, his compassion.”
Francis will be in the Phillipines through the weekend. He’s scheduled to officiate mass near the Tacloban Airport on Saturday. If you remember, Tacloban was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.