MANILA, Philippines — Although it was not called a welcoming ceremony, Pope Francis was greeted by government and church officials and an exuberant crowd Jan. 15 at Manila’s Villamor Air Base.
The pope arrived 13 minutes earlier than scheduled at the base near Manila’s international airport following a six-hour flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka, over Vietnam and the South China Sea.
The pope’s evening arrival after such a long flight led trip organizers to schedule the formal welcoming ceremony for the next morning.
The speeches normally part of the formal ceremony were missing, as was the pope’s zucchetto. Almost as soon as he stepped out of the doors of the plane, a gust of wind blew his white skullcap away. He did get it back, eventually.
President Benigno Aquino III was on hand, as were young people from 19 different schools who choreographed a greeting with dancing and tumbling; they also used blue, red, white and yellow umbrellas to re-create the Philippine flag.
A young boy wearing the traditional barong shirt and a young girl wearing the traditional terno dress with its butterfly sleeves gave the pope flowers and a hug after he descended the stairs from the Sri Lankan Airlines plane.
After a five-minute meeting with President Aquino in the airport VIP lounge, Pope Francis traveled by popemobile the 6 miles from the air base to the Vatican nunciature where he was to stay Jan. 15-19.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route, often waiting hours for their quick glimpse of Pope Francis. While darkness fell over the city, the interior of the popemobile was lighted so people could see the pope standing and waving to them. The trip to the nunciature took just under 40 minutes.