RELIGION

Pope Mania Sweeps The Philippines Ahead Of Francis' Visit

In this Monday Jan. 12, 2015 photo, Pope Francis dolls are on display at a store in Manila, Philippines. The 12-inch limited
In this Monday Jan. 12, 2015 photo, Pope Francis dolls are on display at a store in Manila, Philippines. The 12-inch limited edition doll costs 1,000 pesos (about US$22) each and comes with a doll box and a certificate of authenticity. Well before Pope Francis' plane touches down in this Asian bastion of the Roman Catholic faith, Filipinos have been snapping their selfies beside his life-sized cutout image in churches and malls. His face beams from welcome posters, shirts, cookies, coins, stamps, coffee mugs and all imaginable mementoes. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Well before Pope Francis' plane touches down in this Asian bastion of the Roman Catholic faith, Filipinos have been snapping their selfies beside his life-sized cutout image in churches and malls. His face beams from welcome posters, shirts, cookies, coins, stamps, coffee mugs and all imaginable mementoes.

There's even "Pope Francis, the Musical," in which the pontiff is portrayed singing a little One Direction.

Filipinos have welcomed popes with rock-star intensity since 1970; the late John Paul II visited twice. Pope Francis' Jan. 15-19 trip, following his ongoing Sri Lanka visit, promises to be as big or bigger, in part because the country has many painful reasons to look for hope.

The leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic world will visit eastern Leyte province, where Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands and leveled entire villages in November 2013. In addition, the pontiff's focus on poverty, inequality and such social ills has resonated in this poor country of 100 million, where a tenth of the population work abroad to support their families back home.

pope francis philippines

"Filipinos are excited about the visit because people have a lot of problems and have been through a lot of calamities," retired government employee Josephine Graza told The Associated Press after Mass at a Catholic church in Manila. "They want to see the pope so their heavy hearts can be relieved, so their problems can be bearable."

"You always feel that he cares," said retired doctor Marina Bringas.

Pope mania has hit the road, cyberspace and the airwaves.

In Manila, a company sells 12-inch bespectacled Pope Francis dolls. T-shirts, button pins, posters, key chains and mugs with pictures of the pontiff smiling and waving are sold by Catholic charities, street vendors and online shopping sites. In northern Benguet province, an artist created pontiff bobblehead dolls, with one hand waving.

An official website runs a countdown to Francis' arrival and offers meticulous details of his visit and life, including the fact that he once worked as a nightclub bouncer.

pope francis philippines

Tarpaulins with Francis' smiling image line the spruced-up streets of Manila, where preparations for the visit have peaked. Three work days falling within his visit have been declared holidays. In churches, nine days of prayers for the pope's safety commenced Jan. 6.

In a country where singing is a passion, local artists have recorded at least two papal visit souvenir albums of mostly original songs. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, known for his baritone, is one of the crooners.

With excitement building up, President Benigno Aquino III appealed on national television Monday for Filipinos to strictly follow security guidelines. He said while there are no direct threats to the pontiff, even an admirer trying to pass through barricades for a selfie, or to touch the pope's frock, could trigger a stampede.

On Saturday at Manila's prestigious Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Rev. Enrique Luzung will play a dream role: the young Francis.

The 39-year-old theologian stars in the musical about the Argentinian pope's life, portraying him back when he was known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The show revolves around Francis' life and a visit to a fictional Philippine parish. Another priest will play the older Francis.

Reading up on Pope Francis' life and playing him in the musical "has been life-changing for me," Luzung said, praising the pope's humility and compassion for the poor, the sinner and the lost. "Through him we see the presence of God."

"Pope Francis the Musical" has been playing to full-house audiences in Angeles city, north of Manila, since November. The mostly young crowd goes wild at the show when the elder Francis, wearing a headset, dances and sings briefly to One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," which director Andy Alviz said is among the pope's favorite English songs.

pope francis philippines

Around 150 Filipino and Asian bishops will be in the audience when the musical opens in the capital. The pope is not likely to attend - he is scheduled to spend most of Saturday in Leyte province - but when he returns that night, the cast plans to serenade him after walking from the theatre to the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Manila, where Francis is staying.

Donnavie Argoncillo and her husband made sure they'll have a lifetime remembrance of the pope's visit. They named their fourth child, a chubby 4.5-kilogram (9-pound, 15-ounce) baby boy, partly after the pope. She gave birth at a Manila maternity hospital early Thursday.

Argoncillo said she hoped the name, Francis John, would rub in to make her latest child "a good boy."

"All my three older children are boys and they are all naughty," Argoncillo said, grinning.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • The Ara Yevi samba school performs with a float showcasing Pope Francis, their homage to the Argentine-born pontiff during ca
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The Ara Yevi samba school performs with a float showcasing Pope Francis, their homage to the Argentine-born pontiff during carnival celebrations in Gualeguaychu, Argentina, early Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
  • A dancer from the Ara Yevi samba school performs wearing white wings during a carnival parade of dancers and a float decorate
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A dancer from the Ara Yevi samba school performs wearing white wings during a carnival parade of dancers and a float decorated with a statue of Pope Francis and a peace dove, as their tribute to the Argentine-born pontiff in Gualeguaychu, Argentina, early Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
  • A copy of Rolling Stone magazine is read on January 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Pope Francis is taking his place alo
    AFP via Getty Images
    A copy of Rolling Stone magazine is read on January 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Pope Francis is taking his place alongside the icons of American popular culture by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which hits newsstands on January 31, 2014. (Michael THURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
  • In this June 12, 2013 file photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis receives a leather jacket f
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 12, 2013 file photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis receives a leather jacket from Harley Davidson Motor Company senior vice-president Mark Hans-Richer, at the Vatican. A 1,585cc Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide, donated to Pope Francis last year and signed by him on its tank, will be sold at auction in Paris to help raise funds for a soup kitchen and hostel for the homeless in Rome. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, File)
  • A man walks past the 'Super Pope Francis' graffiti in a street of L'Aquila five years after the earthquake on March 22, 2014
    Franco Origlia via Getty Images
    A man walks past the 'Super Pope Francis' graffiti in a street of L'Aquila five years after the earthquake on March 22, 2014 in L'Aquila, Italy. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
  • ROME, ITALY - JANUARY 29:  A man takes a picture with his smartphone of a graffiti featuring a 'superhero' version of Pope Fr
    Franco Origlia via Getty Images
    ROME, ITALY - JANUARY 29: A man takes a picture with his smartphone of a graffiti featuring a 'superhero' version of Pope Francis appears in Borgo Pio, next to St. Peter's Square on January 29, 2014 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
  • A carnival float depicting a poor pope Francis  right, and a rich cardinal  prior  to the traditional carnival parade in Dues
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A carnival float depicting a poor pope Francis right, and a rich cardinal prior to the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on Monday, March 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
  • FILE - In this file photo Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 released Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 by Miss Deborah Arcelli and taken on a mobi
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    FILE - In this file photo Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 released Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 by Miss Deborah Arcelli and taken on a mobile phone by her son Riccardo, second from left, Pope Francis has his picture taken inside St. Peter's Basilica with youths from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio who came to Rome for a pilgrimage, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Riccardo Aguiari, File)
  • Pope Francis greets Angelina Jolie, at the Vatican, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. The actress, director and U.N. special envoy met
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pope Francis greets Angelina Jolie, at the Vatican, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. The actress, director and U.N. special envoy met briefly with Pope Francis Thursday in the Apostolic Palace after screening her film "Unbroken" to some Vatican officials and ambassadors. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, Pool)
  • A woman shows the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine, dedicated to Pope Francis, whom they elected "Man of
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman shows the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine, dedicated to Pope Francis, whom they elected "Man of the Year" for 2013, on sale in her newspaper kiosk in downtown Rome, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Michele Barbero)
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