The Guide

A Pope in Manila

Other than a visit of a US President, no official visit gets Manila, and the country as whole, all abuzz than a visit here of the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the person we all know as the pope. Something that should be a no-brainer given the country’s predominantly Catholic population.

For Filipino Catholics, a papal visit is seen as an honor that the pope has taken time to visit them here, being a bastion of Catholicism in Asia and a chance for them to receive his blessings to them and to the country.

On January 15 this year, Manila will be graced by such visit with the arrival of the current leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, a papal visit that would last for five days. As the city is in high anticipation for this event, (high enough to be on the point of ridiculousness as far as some aspects are concerned) let the Urban Roamer bring you this edition of the Guide as we look back at the past papal visits in the country, particularly in the city.


Pope Paul VI (who is now one step away from Catholic sainthood) was the first pope to set foot in the country and in Southeast Asia as a whole when he arrived in Manila on November 27, 1970 for a two-day pastoral visit.

It was a hectic schedule for Pope Paul VI but the visit was notable for two, maybe 3 things primarily. One was the inauguration of the Catholic radio station Radio Veritas. The other was his visit to a slum community in Tondo, something that was initially resisted by the government under the Marcoses at that time.

Pope Paul VI in Tondo (courtesy of the PIME Philippines site)

Then there was the unfortunate incident that happened upon the pope’s arrival at the airport when a Bolivian artist named Benjamin Mendoza disguised himself as a priest and attempted to assassinate the pope. Fortunately, he was subdued by others and the assassination foiled though the pope actually was wounded by the would-be assassin’s knife.

Msgr. Pasquale Macci as he foiled the would-be assassin (courtesy of UPI)

To make things even stranger, there was even an attempt to twist the details of the story as it was made to appear that President Ferdinand Marcos himself foiled the assassination attempt thanks to his karate skills or whatever, a version which fortunately did not fly. Then again, this incident happened two years before Marcos declared Martial Law in the country. And we all know happened then.


The second pope to visit the country was Pope John Paul II, (now a saint) the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years and also the only pope so far who managed to visit the country twice. (more on that second visit later) His first visit was a five-day pilgrimage tour of the country which lasted from February 17 to 22, 1981.

His visit was a hectic one as he went from one part of the country to another, visiting Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Legazpi, Morong in Bataan, (visiting the Vietnam War refugee camp there) and Baguio. As what was done by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II also visited Tondo and gave an address at the Araneta Coliseum as well.

What can be considered as the highlight of this visit was the beatification ceremony held in Quirino Grandstand of Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino to be beatified by the Catholic Church. The ceremony itself would be the first beatification ceremony that was held outside the Vatican. Ruiz would eventually be canonized aa the first Filipino saint 6 years later at the Vatican.

No untoward incidents were reported fortunately, as the government made sure it was so. Martial Law was officially “lifted” a month prior. It has been said that Marcos did so as a “goodwilll gesture” of sorts to the pope, even if the act did not mean anything in reality.


Pope John Paul II would make his second visit to the country in January 12-16, 1995 for the World Youth Day celebrations in which Manila was chosen as the venue that year. Thus, the city saw an influx of visitors, mostly youth delegates from different parts of the country and of the world.

Pope John Paul II in the Popemobile (courtesy of Inquirer)

The highlight of that visit and of the celebration was the mass held at the Quirino Grandstand, in which about 4 million people attended, one o the biggest gatherings ever recorded in the pontiff’s reign.

the Quirino Grandstand mass of Pope John Paul II in 1995 (courtesy of Xiao Chua)

Apart from the celebration, the visit was also marked by an averted assassination attempt, this time was supposed to be conducted by members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda. However a fire in the suspects’ room in the Doña Josefa Apartment in Malate where the police discovered chemicals for bomb-making, various paraphernalia and documents which gave details to their plot. The plot which became as Bojinka, involved more than just the pope’s assassination as it also involved hijacking and bombing of passenger planes and an attack on American structures like the World Trade Center, Pentagon, the White House, among others. While the findings were reported to the American authorities, the Americans paid little attention to them and the plot evolved to be realized on September 11, 2001.


Acknowledgements as well to the Papal Visit site, Inquirer, and Wikipedia


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