Pope John Paul II in Manila, 1995
The poor settlers in the slums of Tondo in Manila still remember the day the pope came 30 years ago. "I was a choir member, and our chapel was still being built," Marissa Receo recalled the pope’s visit on February 18, 1981. "We still had a dirt floor and only a long wooden table for our altar," said Dolores San Juan, now a member of the Catholic Women’s League. "When Pope John Paul II came, the people flocked to the church and we were very excited," another resident said. "We love him because he told us our church would soon be finished and in a less than a year we had our first Mass inside the building," she added. No church can be too big for a parish of more than 90,000 people, nearly half of them Catholics. The structure was built on Del Pan Street near the port of Manila. Most parishioners earn a living from industries and casual work on the docks. There are often new faces in walled-in neighborhoods of shanties piled as high as three floors, one floor per family, many of them migrants. With the coming beatification of Pope John Paul II, the parish opens its doors to people from other areas for a "public viewing" of the chair used by the pope during his visit. "It has been part of history," said Father Joseph Granada, parish priest of Tondo. In the northern province of Bataan, the faithful are going all out to prepare for the day of the late pope's beatification on Sunday. People recall that three months before the pope arrived in the Philippines in 1981, a Vietnamese refugee scoured the rain forest of Bataan to look for the best hardwood tree to carve an image of a crucified Christ. The Vietnamese artisan and his fellow refugees presented the wooden cross to the pope during the Mass held at the refugee camp. To honor the late pope, Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga
approved a Bataan-wide pilgrimage in which the central piece is the Vietnamese-made cross. Launched in Hermosa town on April 1, the cross has traveled to 18 parishes and is now in Mariveles town before it ends on April 29 in what used to be the site of the refugee camp. In the Archdiocese of Cebu
in the central Philippines, a Mass for workers will be celebrated on May 1 as a tribute to Pope John Paul II. In Rome, a group of Filipino singers will play an important role during the beatification of Pope John Paul II after they were chosen to sing during the start of the program. Reports said that on the eve of the late pope’s beatification, the Filipino choir will perform the opening song at Circo Massimo, St. Peter’s Basilica.