MANILA, Philippines – At Malacañang Palace, the Pope seemed to take on a different demeanor.
Pope Francis was welcomed in Malacañang not as the head of the Catholic Church but as head of state of the Vatican. And it showed.
Hundreds of government employees awaited his arrival at the Kalayaan grounds but they too seemed subdued – at least until after the pontifical anthem was played. As soon as the anthems finished however, the crowd erupted into cheers although not as frenetic as the public the day before.
Aquino was the first to greet the Pope as he stepped out of his simple black Volkswagen Touran, windows down to wave at those lined on the streets en route to the Palace.
The two leaders then stood on the platform for the arrival honors where their respective state anthems were played, and for a 21-gun salute. The event was much larger than any welcome to a diplomat, noticeably grander than US President Barack Obama’s visit.
Francis was then greeted by Aquino’s whole 26-member Cabinet, all present. They shook hands before the Pope went on to meet other church officials also present including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
The pontiff was expected to walk around the red carpet which span the Kalayaan grounds, which would bring him closer to the crowd of government employees who were waving Vatican and Philippine flags – but he did not. Instead, a more formal Pope walked towards the Main Entrance to Malacañang without waving to the crowd.The Pope, however, was seen kissing and blessing some children who approached him and infants presented to him as he made his way to the main Palace lobby.
Towards the entrance of the Palace, family members of the Cabinet greeted the Pope, giving the pontiff a chance to touch and bless some of the children who ran openly towards him.
Inside, Francis signed the Book of Visitors at the Reception Hall, followed by a private conversation between Aquino and the Pope – much like bilateral meetings with other heads of state – at the Palace’s Music Room. There, Aquino was expected to introduce the First Family to the Pope.
The pair entered Rizal Hall to meet with civil authorities, Cabinet members and the diplomatic corps. An estimated 450 guests were in the general audience including about 10 senators and 10 members of Congress whom the leaders were addressed.
As soon as the Palace event ended, however, when the Pope walked out of the Palace lobby to climb into his popemobile, the less formal Francis returned.