Since Pope Francis won't have much time to see the beauty of the Philippines when he makes his visit from January 15 to 19, the best the archipelago has to offer will make its way to where he is.
Organizers of the pontiff's visit have undertaken to bring close to Francis elements of the country at a grand finale in Manila where the Pope will officiate a Mass.
"If we can't bring the Pope to go around the Philippines, we will bring the Philippines and its elements close to the Pope," said Father Alex Bautista, who heads the team designing the altar at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
Speaking to reporters on January 5, Bautista said he considered the Pope's penchant for simple things in creating the design for the altar. The materials for the altar are not only indigenous, but also replete in symbolism.
For instance, the altar will be adorned with garden croton (locally known as the San Francisco plant) and pandan shrubs, according to Bautista.
He explained that the San Francisco plant needs light to acquire colors, drawing a parallel to people and their faith.
"[The plants] need sun to have color. It's like the faith of the people, [which comes from] Christ, who is the light of the world," said Bautista.
Pandan shrubs, on the other hand, are commonly found in backyards in the country's rural areas.
Aside from the plant decorations, the top of the wooden altar table will feature an island's famous marble, while the white linen cloth will be spun from piña fibers. The fabric is used to make the barong tagalog, a formal shirt of Filipino men.
"In the design consideration...the concept is to serve the liturgical purpose and to have a Filipino character and reflect the simplicity of the Vicar of Christ," said Bautista, who also designed the papal chair.
Organizers are expecting some 2,500 priests and 200 bishops to attend the Mass at Quirino Grandstand, the culminating activity of the Pope's two-country Asian tour.
Prior to visiting the Philippines, Francis begins his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka earlier in January.
A 1,000-member choir and a 200-piece orchestra will accompany the crowd during the Mass, one of the organizers said in the briefing.