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MANILA, Philippines – When Pope Francis visits the Philippines from January 15 to 19, he would have traveled 8 times outside Italy. Of these 8 trips, he chose to spend 3 in Asian countries.
The Philippines will become the 3rd Asian country Francis visits as head of the Catholic Church, after Sri Lanka from January 12 to 15 and South Korea from August 13 to 18, 2014.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said this shows that Asia is “one of the great frontiers” of the Catholic Church.
“These great trips of Pope Francis reflect the Church’s renewed attention to this predominant portion of humanity of today and of tomorrow,” Lombardi said in his Vatican Radio interview, as translated by Zenit.
Lombardi explained that Asia has an “impressive human presence.” He also described the world’s biggest continent as “a boundless terrain of evangelization, of proclamation of the Gospel in very varied cultural, social, and political situations, often very difficult.”
“Therefore, it is one of the great frontiers of the Church of our time, and Pope Francis indicates this with his exciting trips,” Lombardi said in an interview published by Zenit on December 30, 2014.
In an interview with Rappler in September 2014, Vatican deputy spokesman Fr Ciro Benedettini also said the Pope’s trip to the Philippines is crucial for the Catholic Church.
He said the trip will help the Catholic Church “enlarge” the number of Christians in Asia.
Benedettini said the Philippines, after all, “is the most Catholic country in Asia.” Up to 80% of Filipinos belong to the Catholic Church, while in general, only 3% of Asians do.
“So there is room for enlarging the numbers of Christians, and obviously that’s a very nice spot to start – from the Philippines, which is a Catholic country,” the Vatican official said.
Pope’s dream come true
Benedettini added that Asia is important for the Catholic Church because even if Catholics comprise a minority in the region, “we have to help the human family to stay together, to respect each other, to work together, to be in peace.”
The Pope’s trips to Asia also fulfill his dream as a young Jesuit.
Francis, then the Jesuit seminarian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, badly wanted to work as a missionary in Asia that he once requested Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the head of the world’s Jesuits, to send him to Japan.
Bergoglio, after all, joined the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, because he liked its “missionary outreach” and wanted to become a missionary.
Bergoglio recalled in 2013: “When I was studying theology I wrote to the General, who was Fr Arrupe, asking him to dispatch me, to send me to Japan or to some other place. However, he thought about it at length and said to me, with great kindness, ‘But you have had a lung disease, which is not very good for such demanding work,’ so I stayed in Buenos Aires.”
Getting his wish decades later, Francis told young Asians in South Korea in August 2014: “The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’” – Rappler.com
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