Looking Back at The Three Catholic Popes Who Have Visited The Philippines
As one of the most Catholic countries in the world, the Philippines has been lucky to receive three papal visits in our history. This Holy Week, look back at each of them:
Pope Paul VI
The first-ever papal visit to the Philippines was that of Pope Paul VI in 1970, in the wake of three storms that hit the country that year. The Italian pope had scheduled a visit to Manila as part of a tour around Asia and the Pacific, and arrived here in November 27. Before leaving on November 29, he visited the poor communities of Tondo. His visit, however, was marred by an assassination attempt by a Bolivian expat named Benjamin Mendoza. As the pope was being welcomed at the airport by officials, including then-president Ferdinand Marcos, Mendoza, disguised as a priest, approached the pope and stabbed him twice. Mendoza was immediately subdued and arrested, and Paul VI did survive the stab wounds to continue his trip as planned. Curiously, Marcos himself allegedly tried to take credit for foiling the assassination attempt.
Pope John Paul II
The second papal visit to the Philippines was that of Pope John Paul II, in 1981, as the first pope to visit the Philippines on an official Vatican visit. He arrived on February 17 and through the course of five days, visited Manila, Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Legazpi, and Baguio. He also officiated the beatification of the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. Notably, the pope also denounced the authoritarian compromise of human rights in a message to then-president Marcos, who was continuing his authoritarian rule after lifting Martial Law in January of that year. Pope John Paul II said, in the presence of Marcos himself:
"Legitimate concern for the security of a nation, as demanded by the common good, could lead to the temptation of subjugating to the State the human being and his or her dignity and rights. Any apparent conflict between the exigencies of security and of the citizens' basic rights must be resolved according to the fundamental principle—upheld always by the Church—that social organization exists only fοr the service of man and for the protection of his dignity, and that it cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded."
Pope John Paul II would return to the Philippines in 1995, in a visit that was focused on the 10th World Youth Day, where he drew a crowd of over four million—one of the largest crowds ever at a papal event. However, like Pope Paul VI’s visit, this occasion was almost spoiled by an assassination attempt. A few days prior to Pope John Paul’s arrival, police discovered an apartment stocked with the components of a chemical bomb, a photo of the pope, and a priest’s cassock.
The most recent papal visit, and the one that the social media generation would well remember, is that of Pope Francis in 2015. He stayed from January 15 to 19, and visited Manila, Tacloban, and Palo, Leyte. But it was at his final mass at Luneta that he amassed an estimated crowd of six million people, breaking Pope John Paul II’s record (which was also set in Manila) to become what organizers called the largest papal gathering in history. As further testament to the pope’s popularity here in the Philippines, many would remember that we even endearingly called him “Lolo Kiko.”