01/14/2015, 00.00
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Thousands of Catholics from Vietnam are waiting for the pope in the Philippines

by Thanh Thuy
Tomorrow, 15 January, the pope will arrive in the Philippines. On Saturday, he will visit typhoon survivors. On Sunday, he will celebrate the closing Mass. Some seven million people are expected. For a member of Caritas Saigon, this is a unique opportunity to see the pontiff. Bishop Tran Van Toan, ordained by Francis in April, will also be present. Evangelii Gaudium is "central to my episcopal mission."

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics are travelling to the Philippines to experience first-hand Pope Francis' apostolic visit. The pontiff is set to arrive in the Asian country tomorrow, 15 January, from Sri Lanka, said Mrs Teresa.

A Caritas member in Ho Chi Minh City, she is going "on a pilgrimage to the Philippines to see the pope" because as a resident of Vietnam, "I may never have an opportunity to meet him." The diocesan vicar and a delegation representing the Vietnamese Christian charity from the city once called Saigon are also travelling with her.

In a "developing" nation of more than 90 million people as well as many unresolved problems and contradictions, Pope Francis' presence will be "a source of peace and hope" for both Filipinos and others.

After Sri Lanka, the first stage of his apostolic trip to Asia, Francis will arrive in the Philippines tomorrow. On Saturday, he will travel to Tacloban to visit with survivors of typhoon Yolanda, which struck the Philippines' central provinces in November 2013, causing thousands of deaths. This will be followed by the celebration of Mass.

On that day, the Holy Father will also visit a new centre dedicated to the poor. A meeting with the clergy in Palo cathedral will follow.

On Sunday, a solemn closing Eucharistic ceremony will be concelebrate at Rizal Park. Some seven million people are expected.

About 500 priests as well as men and women religious from Vietnam, along with thousands of young students, will attend the pontiff's services. The students are currently in the Philippines, enrolled at the University of St Thomas De la Salle (UST), Ateneo University, the University of the Philippines and the Asian Social Institute (ASI).

For these Vietnamese Catholics, this will be an opportunity to see Pope Francis up close and participate in the Masses, meetings, and moments of shared prayer.

In recent years, thousands of Vietnamese, Catholics and non-Catholics, have studied in the Philippines, earning various degrees, including doctorates.

The Filipino Church and government have also provided a lot of help to Vietnamese Catholics over the years, particularly between 1975 and 1994, when Vietnam was under sanctions and faced a serious economic crisis.

Mgr Joseph Tran Van Toan, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Long Xuyen, is among those who will live with particular emotion the meeting with the Pope.

A UST graduate, he was the first priest of the Vietnamese Church to be ordained bishop by Pope Francis on 5 April last year.

He said recently that Francis "is a source of inspiration" in his life and priesthood. "His exhortation [Evangelii Gaudium] is central to my episcopal mission," he explained, because it "reminds us that the Church must go out and serve the people, especially the poor, the elderly, the disabled, children and the less fortunate."

Even Sister Mary will attend the celebrations. "I am studying in Manila," she told AsiaNews, "and together with Filipino Catholics from Manila, I shall have the opportunity of seeing and hearing" the pontiff.

A delegation of Sisters Lovers of the Holy Cross is also in "the Philippines to see Pope Francis."

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