Today, on January 15, 2015 Pope Francis has arrived in the Philippines for a five-day visit to the nation’s 80 million Roman Catholics. The main purpose of his visit is to comfort the Filipino people devastated by the typhoon and the earthquake that hit the Visayas. The highlight of the Pope’s visit will be a huge open air Mass in Manila on Sunday (January 18) and a visit to Tacloban (January 17) to meet survivors of a devastating typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), where more than 6,000 people were killed in November 2013.
The theme of Pope’s visit to the Philippines is “Mercy and compassion” and it refers to Matthew 9:36, where Jesus, after “seeing the people, felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
The official website for the papal visit states that the pontiff’s message is a challenge “to imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd, who is Mercy and Compassion.”
It also cites Evangelii Gaudium, in which Pope Francis wrote, “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
The Filipinos are invited to see the visit as a time to re-learn and live the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy and to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila “The pastoral visit of Pope Francis focused on Mercy and Compassion would certainly offer vast opportunities to experience grace, to hear callings, to disturb comfort zones, to value the poor, to renew society, to care for creation and to live honorably.”