In 1970 Blessed Pope Paul VI included the Philippines in his apostolic pilgrimage to Asia and Oceania. Saint Pope John Paul II came to the Philippines twice -- in 1981 and in 1995 for the World Youth Day. Twenty years later, we welcome Pope Francis.
Every papal visit is unique, bearing the influence of the unique personalities of the popes and the changing circumstances in the country, the Church and the world.
In one conversation I had with Pope Francis he expressed a wish, "I am not supposed to be the focus of the apostolic trip to the Philippines. Jesus should be the focus."
I have tried my best to communicate this expectation of the Holy Father to the Filipino nation and to those involved in the preparation for the visit. His sentiment should be our sentiment too.
His Christ-centered understanding of his pilgrimage should provide us with the pivotal point of the many events that would occur.
The theme of the apostolic visit -- "mercy and compassion" -- should be qualified as the mercy and compassion of Jesus manifested in the Gospels. In the light of this desire of the Pope I would like to emphasize a few expectations of the visit.
Year of the Laity
First, Pope Francis comes after the celebration of the Year of the Laity in the Philippines, which was observed in 2014.
We await the impetus and encouragement that the Successor of Peter would give to our lay faithful in deepening their personal encounter with Jesus, and in bringing the Gospel of Jesus to all aspects of life -- conscience, family, culture, politics, finance, science, arts, sports, migration, labor, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and social communications.
We await the Pope's word to the ordained and consecrated men and women on how to foster communion with the lay faithful. We await the Pope to send us again as missionaries wherever we are, especially in Asia.
We eagerly await Pope Francis to strengthen us as Jesus once told Peter, "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32)
Hearing the message
But we must listen to Pope Francis. It is not enough that we see him, come close to him or even touch him.
We have been begging the Filipino people to listen to the Gospel of Jesus that would reach us through the Holy Father. The apostolic visit will make a difference to the Philippine Church and society only if we listen and act on what we have heard.
Secondly, Pope Francis comes after a series of natural and human-caused disasters that the Filipino people experienced in 2013 and 2014: earthquakes, typhoons (the strongest of which was Haiyan) and armed conflicts.
But let us not forget the daily disaster of poverty and inequality as seen in children and families living on the streets, homeless people, human trafficking, unemployment and underemployment, forced migration, prostitution, illegal drugs, corruption, missing persons and environmental degradation.
Mercy and compassion
Pope Francis will bring the mercy and compassion of Jesus to the tired, weary and those who find life burdensome. They await the assurance that Jesus remains the shepherd who has compassion for the hungry crowds.
We await the renewed challenge for the ordained and religious to embody the love, patience and healing of the Jesus as they bring the good news to the poor.
We await the call of the Pope to the shapers of government, culture and the economy to return to love as the supreme law that must shape their policies and programs. We await the Holy Father to encourage all efforts to forge peace, especially in parts of Mindanao and to promote good will among peoples of different religions.
We eagerly await in Pope Francis the love that Peter once professed to Jesus who asked him, "Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15)
Love for Jesus
This love for Jesus made Peter a shepherd with the mission of feeding and tending the sheep of Jesus. We will see Pope Francis' love for Jesus in his pastoral charity towards us.
Finally, Pope Francis comes to us as one like us, or in his own words "as a regular human being," a sinner who has experienced God's mercy. His simple words and gestures will make Jesus and the Church more accessible to Filipinos.
We await the Successor of Peter: a brother, a father and a friend. The Filipino people are filled with joy.