When the Pope visits, it will be different from 1995
MANILA, Philippines – Come January 2015, it will be the first time in two decades that the Philippines will welcome a sitting Pope.
In January 1995, Pope John Paul II came to the Philippines to celebrate World Youth Day. The event took massive planning on the part of the Philippine government, largely similar to the ongoing preparations.
One similarity between both visits is the presence of Philippine Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, director general of the APEC 2015 National Organizing Council. It was also Paynor who was in charge of the 1995 visit.
Speaking to Rappler, Paynor shared the major differences between the 1995 visit and the Pope’s upcoming trip – both much-anticipated but with their own different challenges.
Challenge 1: Pope Francis’ personality
To Paynor, the 1995 trip will be significantly different from the 2015 trip because of one basic contrast: the two Popes’ personalities.
“The basic difference between 1995 and today is this Pope is one who wants to be close to the people. And in order to portray that, no bullet proof, no nothing,” Paynor said.
This, he said, poses a “very, very big challenge” in terms of security.
When Pope John Paul II came in 1995, he was put in a Popemobile with bulletproof windows and bombproof parts. The current Pope prefers a Popemobile without the same protection – a nightmare for security officials and organizers.
Challenge 2: Bigger population
Because the Philippine population has nearly doubled since 20 years ago, organizers face a larger challenge in terms of crowd control.
“In 1995 (the population) was about [60 million] or so, we’re now 100. So the crowd that will be going to see this Pope will be perhaps 1/4 bigger or 1/3 bigger. So you can see the challenge is big,” Paynor said.
He estimates about 6 million will be present during the Pope’s visit, compared to the 5 million people in 1995.
Paynor said they will be using cement barriers during the visit to help control the crowd expected to come – a lesson he learned from 1995.
He said he thought policemen grasping hands would be enough to stop the crowd. He was wrong.
“We're using cement so it won't be pushed,” said Paynor. “If it's a steel-linked fence and the crowd pushes, the people in front will die. Here, at least, if it's low, then they can still escape [if they have to].”
Challenge 3: More construction
The 3rd is less evident, but one that provides a significant challenge for organizers who will be busy with rerouting roads during the Pope’s visit.
“We have a lot of construction going on so it means that the challenge is even greater,” Paynor explained.
Unlike 1995, there are now many road closures because of ongoing projects throughout Manila, Paynor added.
He also admitted that there may be even more road closures leading up to the Pope’s actual visit as organizers will work to prepare the route of Pope Francis when he comes.
Challenge 4: Increased threats
Paynor described the 4th biggest challenge – increased security threats – as one of, if not the “most important.”
“The world has changed since 1995,” he said. “Now you have to worry about ISIS, you have to worry about the usual Al-Qaeda and stuff like that,” he said.
This, coupled with the Pope’s insistence on mingling with the people, he said, makes the job of organizers more difficult.
“With the current situation going on in (Syria), the threat assessment is even higher and yet (the Pope) does not want any protection because as far as he's concerned, he wants to be with the people.”
He added, “He doesn’t want any kind of barrier and he's confident when (it’s his time) the one up there decides for him.”
To decrease all possible risk, Paynor said he traveled to Korea to see how organizers there handled the Pope’s decision not to use bulletproof glass during his recent visit.
“They put in a lot of resources,” he said. – Rappler.com