Filipinos give Pope Francis a rousing welcome

(Photo: Reuters)

A rapturous crowd greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at Villamor Airbase in Manila, Philippines late Thursday.

As the beaming Pope emerged from the Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus 340 plane that bore him from Colombo, Sri Lanka, church bells tolled across Asia's largest Catholic nation.

Leading the huge crowd welcoming the 78-year-old Holy Father was Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, who approached and exchanged a few words with him when he descended the stairs from the plane.

Rappler reports that hundreds of Filipino youth shouted "Mabuhay, Papa Francis! (Long live, Pope Francis!) and a group of children performed a dance. A boy and a girl from a house for street children also gave the Pope some flowers, both of whom he embraced.

After about 30 minutes at the airbase, the Pope got on the popemobile and made his way to the Papal Nunciature in Manila, where he is staying while in the nation's capital.

With him in the popemobile was Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Tens of thousands of ecstatic Filipinos, who lined up along Roxas Boulevard hours before the Pope's arrival, cheered and snapped pictures as the pontiff, smiling and waving, made his way along the 22-kilometre stretch to the Papal Nunciature.

"It's like a big, big, big, big national fiesta," Tagle said during an interview before the Pope's arrival.

According to Tagle, the papal visit, which is the first in 20 years, "comes at that point when people would really be helped by a moral and spiritual boost coming from someone who really cares."

On Friday morning, the Pope paid a courtesy call to Aquino in Malacañang Palace, the executive seat of the Philippine government.

Later in the day, he celebrated Mass in Manila Cathedral together with Tagle, and then made an unscheduled visit to a shelter for street children.

This was followed by a "Meeting with Families" in the Mall of Asia Arena.

Together with the papal delegation, the pontiff was to fly on Saturday to Tacloban, Leyte, where he was to say Mass. He will then proceed to Palo to comfort the survivors of the super typhoon Haiyan, which claimed over 6,000 lives in November 2013 and wreaked havoc on entire communities.