01/15/2015, 00.00
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Pope: in the Philippines, the Catholic heart of Asia

Francis arrives in Manila. Last night, before leaving Sri Lanka, the unscheduled visit to a Buddhist center. Father Lombardi: "it was a short stop, but significant in its naturalness and I would say typical of the familial style with which the Pope is pursuing relationships with people, even other religions."

Manila (AsiaNews) - A massive and cheering crowd greeted Pope Francis on his arrival in the Philippines, the second and last leg of his trip to Asia. Chants and dances of boys and girls from Manila airport where, at 6pm local time, after nearly six hours of flight, Francis arrived, welcomed by President Benigno Aquino III, with whom he had a brief meeting at the airport. And cheering crowds (pictured) also lined the eight kilometers separating the airport from the Nunciature, where the Pope will reside during his stay.

This is the fourth papal visit to this nation, the only one in Asia, together with East Timor, with a Catholic majority. About  80 percent of the Filipinos declare themselves to be Catholic. The first pope to come here was Paul VI, 45 years ago, followed by John Paul II in 1981 and 1995.

Ahead of his departure from Sri Lanka Pope Francis, after leaving the nunciature in Colombo, stopped for a prayer at the shrine of "Our Lady of Lanka" in Bolawalana, along the road leading to the airport.

And last night, Francis, as referred by Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, also went to the Buddhist temple. Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio that Francis, "had met an authoritative representative of one of the Buddhist organizations at the airport, who had told him he wanted to see him and wanted to meet him. This person was also present at yesterday's inter-religious meeting, together all other Buddhist  monks who were present. The Pope took the opportunity this evening to make a quick visit to the center, where there is also the temple and also the religious prayer hall of this Buddhist community. He was greeted with great familiarity. They explained to him the reality of this place of prayer, and he was shown the Stupa, which contains relics and that is one of the sacred objects that the temple custodies, before the statue of Buddha; and they even opened this for the Pope, which happens - it seems - only once a year. So it was a great opening as a sign of respect, honor, friendship for this great religious authority who visited them. While opening this box of relics, some young monks who were there present recited a hymn, a prayer with great naturalness and simplicity. It was a very short moment, but significant in its naturalness, I would say it is typical of the familial style with which the Pope is pursuing relationships with people, even other religions. It is part of this culture and pedagogy of the personal encounter that helps bring forward great causes like that of interreligious dialogue. We saw as much here in this case I noticed. I must say that this Buddhist person also had on display a beautiful photograph with Pope Benedict XVI, so we see that it this is a person who cultivates dialogue with other religions and had been in the Vatican at an audience. There was a nice photo, in 2007, with Pope Benedict XVI ... So this person is not new to friendly relationship with Catholics".

Finally last night, the Pope "was feeling very well at the end of the day" and even went to the archbishopric, where he was unable to go on his arrival. "He wanted to  make up for this with an act of friendship, sympathy in this visit to the bishops".


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