Philippine bishops urge faithful: Prime for Pope's visit with mercy acts

(Photo: REUTERS / Erik De Castro)People bathe in a beach to celebrate Easter Sunday near Manila Bay in Cavite province April 20, 2014. Filipinos flocked to beaches traditionally on Easter Sunday after commemorating Lent in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, local media reported.

Forget about the red carpet and the itinerary.

When Pope Francis visits the Philippines next year, Catholic bishops in the country have something different to prepare for him

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has issued a challenge to the predominantly Catholic nation: Prepare spiritually to receive the third pope to come to the southeast Asian nation' shores.

Usually, our first reaction to the news of a papal visit is one of "euphoria and thanksgiving," Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said recently.

"However, we must prepare the nation to receive the Holy Father by setting our minds and hearts in communion with our dear Pope Francis, the messenger of peace, love, and the apostle of the poor."

Villegas as president of the bishops' conference said, "Our compassionate shepherd comes to show his deep concern for our people who have gone through devastating calamities."

This was a reference to people still struggling to overcome the havoc inflicted by the earthquake and typhoon that hit Visayas late in 2013.

"He comes to confirm us in our faith as we face the challenges of witnessing to the Joy of the Gospel in the midst of our trials," said the national Catholic leader.

The Vatican has yet to confirm the exact date of the papal visit to Philippine after a visit to Sri Lanka in January 2015.

Vatican official visited the country early July to look for places where Francis can visit.

Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said the Holy See may announce the exact papal visit dates later in July or August, and the itinerary by November.

A certainty is that Francis will visit typhoon-stricken areas in Leyte, where Typhoon Haiyan cut a path of destruction in 2013.

Reading a statement on behalf of the Catholic bishops on July 8, Villegas encouraged Filipinos to do mercy acts, which could be simple as giving food to the hungry or helping others in need.

"When he meets us, may he see in us a people touched by the mercy of God, living out the compassion of God, a people truly rich in mercy and compassion and grateful to those who have mercy to us especially after various calamities hit our country," he said.

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