Pope leaves Philippines

Pope Francis left the Philippines on Monday, ending his tour of Sri Lanka and Asia's predominantly Roman Catholic country.

By Richard Tomkins
Pope Francis meets with typhoon victims. Photo: Benhur Arcayan / Malacanang Photo Bureau
Pope Francis meets with typhoon victims. Photo: Benhur Arcayan / Malacanang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Pope Francis departed the Philippine capital for Rome on Monday, ending a tumultuous weeklong trip to Asia.

As with previous days, his motorcade route on Monday to Villamor Air Base, next to Manila International Airport, was lined with tens of thousands of Roman Catholic faithful, Bands played on the tarmac, choirs sang and children danced as he boarded his airliner, blessing and waving to well-wishers, including President Benigno Aquino III.


The afternoon before and estimated 5-6 million people crowded in and around Manila's Rizal Park to attend an open-air mass officiated by the pontiff in heavy rain.

"... He (God) reminds us of the importance of protecting our families, and those larger families which are the Church, God's family, and the world, our human family," he said at the mass. "Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture."

The words were a reference to artificial methods of birth control and echoed similar comments by him on Friday, his first full day in the Philippines which is about 89 percent Roman Catholic.


The country's lawmakers have passed legislation allowing distribution of birth control information and devices to the poor, which was vehemently opposed by the church and church groups here.

Also on Sunday he again called for tackling the social inequalities in the country.

The giving of alms to the poor by people was simply not enough, he said. The faithful must actively engage in activities to alleviate the plight of the poor.

The comment was sparked by a meeting with a young girl as an organization that takes care of street children. She had asked the pope why God allowed children to be poor, to be exploited, forced into drug use and prostitution to survive.

"We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected," he said later. "And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets."

Street children are a common site in Manila. Tens of thousands live under bridges, beg money and scavenge garbage dumps for food. Latest statistics indicate 25 per cent or more off the Philippine's 100 million people survive on less than $1 a day.


Earlier in the weekend the pope visited Leyte Island, where more than 7,000 people were killed in a super typhoon. He cut his visit short, however, amid strong winds and rain from an approaching tropical storm.

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