MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Pope Francis ended his 5-day state and pastoral visit today, as he returns to the Vatican after his first-ever trip to the Philippines.
Departure ceremonies for the Pope began at 9:42 am at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on Monday, January 19 where President Benigno Aquino III himself sent the pontiff off.
Aside from Aquino, 13 Cabinet Secretaries also bade Pope Francis goodbye, as well as 12 church leaders and the ambassador of Argentina to the Philippines, Roberto Sebastian Bosch Estevez.
Pope Francis passed through Honor Guards with Aquino and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle on their walk to the airplane, before the President and the Cardinal bade him farewell on the bottom of the plane’s stairs.
His ride, a special flight via Philippine Airlines with the flight number PR 8010, took off at 10:12 am Philippine time.
Prior to leaving the nunciature, the Pope met with top government officials who were involved in the preparations for the state and apostolic visit.
The Pope departed after 4 fruitful days in the country which included 3 masses – one in Manila Cathedral, another in Tacloban for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims, and a public mass in Luneta which gathered a record crowd of 6 million people.
Francis is only the 3rd pope to visit the Philippines where up to 80% of the population are Catholic. Throngs of Filipinos have lined the streets over the past few days to get a glimpse of the Pope everywhere he went, even braving winds and rain.
Crowds again awaited the Pope on his route from the Apostolic Nunciature to Villamor, this time, to say goodbye.
End of second Asia trip
The pontiff visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines on his second trip to Asia in five months, as he seeks to promote the Catholic Church in one of its most important growth regions.
Sunday saw one of the highlights of his journey, with an estimated 6 million people turning out in Manila’s Luneta he celebrated mass – a world record for a papal gathering.
The pope began this Asian tour with two days in Sri Lanka, where he canonized Sri Lanka’s first saint in front of another record crowd.
Police said a million people in the majority Buddhist nation turned out for the event, making it the biggest public celebration ever for the capital of Colombo. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com