04/04/2005, 00.00
PHILIPPINES - VATICAN
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The Philippines is in national mourning for Pope

Flags fly at half-mast across the country; the attendance of government representatives at funeral services at the Vatican has yet to be confirmed. Mgr Rosales: "He was the voice of conscience and of truth."

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Philippines began a period of national mourning on Monday for Pope John Paul II, with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordering flags in all government offices nationwide to be flown at half-mast.

Presidential spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said Mrs Arroyo's attendance at the pope's funeral was not confirmed and no official list of government representatives had been prepared as yet. Unconfirmed reports said Mrs Arroyo would send vice president Noli de Castro and his wife Arlene; speaker of the House, Jose De Venecia and his wife Gina and foreign minister Alberto Romulo.

In the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic country, people affectionately remembered a Pope who visited them twice and inspired a return to democracy when huge protests swelled to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

"He was the voice and conscience of truth," Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, told 1,000 worshippers at the Divine Mercy Shrine. "He spoke out on issues he believed in, especially life, justice, compassion and love."

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu will leave for Rome on Monday where he will be one of the 117 cardinals taking part in the conclave to select Pope John Paul's successor.

Retired Manila Archbishop, Jaime Cardinal Sin, is unlikely to go as he is in poor health while the country's third cardinal, Jose Sanchez, who is based in Rome, is no longer eligible for the conclave, which excludes all cardinals 80 years old and above.

Papal Nuncio, Antonio Franco, said a mass for the Pope would be celebrated on Wednesday at Manila Cathedral.

Franco will preside over the mass, which is in addition to the daily prayers that will be said for the late pontiff.

All city offices in Manila have also been ordered by Mayor Lito Atienza to keep their flags at half-mast until the Pope is buried.

Priests planned to plant 84 seedlings – to mark the Pontiff's age – at a Manila park, which will be renamed the John Paul mini-forest.

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