Why Pope Francis went to the Philippines

Pope Francis’ 4-day visit to the Philippines last week prompted questions from my (not Filipino) friends like…”so why did the pope visit your home country?  Why not other, more populous nations in the region — like Indonesia, or Pakistan or Bangladesh?”

Photo from the Vatican website

Photo from the Vatican website

My friends are right in that the Philippines is not the most populous country in Asia and even in Southeast Asia.  What they didn’t know was that the Philippines is the only country in the region with a majority Christian (primarily Catholic) religion.

Media reported that 80% of the Philippine population are Catholics.  Since the Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with over 100 million people, that is around 80 million Filipino Catholics!

The Philippines is among the 10 countries in the world with the largest number of Christians (ranked #5 after the USA, Brazil, Mexico and Russia).

Here are numbers from a Pew Research study:

Chart Source: PewResearch Religion and Public Life Project

Chart Source: Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project

Around 6 million people gathered to see and hear Pope Francis at Manila’s Luneta / Rizal Park last week.  Rizal Park (renamed after Philippine national hero Jose Rizal) is one of the largest urban park in Asia — but still, a crowd of 6 million?

Image from Vatican Website

Image from Vatican Website

Six million is roughly the entire population of Finland, or the entire U.S. state of Massachusetts converging for an event in one place.  Can you imagine being around that many faithful followers?

Many Filipinos are religious — and it is no wonder there are 80 million Catholics in the Philippines. For many, this faith sustains the spirit, and gives hope, despite living in conditions that most of us cannot imagine.

But the Catholic church — at least in the Philippines — is so powerful that over the last 15 years, they blocked and stood in the way of badly needed reproductive rights legislation.  Legislation that would have allowed family planning education and for poor families to access free birth control to help with overpopulation, and subsequent poverty problems.

See my post

Population Philippines – Too many mouths to feed

and the beautiful and poignant video “Above and Below” from Stephen Werc on the post “Living with the dead” to get an idea.

A reproductive health bill finally passed and is now law, but the church is continuing to lobby to overturn the new law.

The Pope visited the Philippines because there are more Catholics there than any other nation in Asia.  Prior to going to Manila, the Pope also visited Tacloban, the area hit by Super Typhoon, Haiyan in November of 2013. Typhoon Haiyan was the most devastating typhoon in Philippine history and one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

I am not a Catholic — and don’t agree with their stance on birth control — but if I was, Pope Francis is someone I imagine I could relate to, as the leader of my church.

Family planning aside, Pope Francis seems like someone who truly cares about the plight of poor people on our planet.  I just don’t understand  why the Catholic church view family planning and reproductive health topics as separate from what contributes to world poverty.

You may have heard about the latest OXFAM report published this month, and that “1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25-a-day.

We cannot accept this, and I hope the power of faith, and those devoted to the core beliefs of Christianity or whatever religion guides them, will work to eradicate poverty and to address the unbelievable, and continuing inequality of what the rich have and what the poor do not, living in our modern, but fragile world.

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Notes:

  • The last time the leader of the Catholic church visited the Philippines was 20 years ago, when Pope St. John Paul II presided over World Youth Day in Manila.
  • Prior to arriving in the Philippines, Pope Francis was in the country of Sri Lanka to canonize the country’s first saint, Blessed Joseph Vaz who was known as the “Apostle of Ceylon.”  Sri Lanka has a population of 20 million, of which 7.4 % are Christians, with about 80% of Christians being Roman Catholic. Portuguese colonist brought Christianity to Sri Lanka in the early 16th century (more about Sri Lanka here).

Related:

OXFAM International’s article Richest 1% will own more than all the rest in 2016

For more on countries the pope will visit this year (including scheduled visits tot he USA and Africa), visit the National Catholic Register website here.

You may find the following LolaKo.com post of interest as well, related to  the Philippines & human development topics:

How many — and where do — Filipinos live and work overseas?

Most Filipino-Americans have relatives, or at least know someone personally, who work abroad.  We know about the Filipino professionals — nurses, doctors, architects, engineers, accountants (and most recently, teachers) — the seafarers and those in the merchant marine trade, as well as construction laborers.  However, the majority of overseas workers are women who apply for domestic jobs.

It is estimated that about 11% (from 9 to 11 million) of the Philippine population work overseas, and send money home to support their families.  Although India, China and Mexico receive more remittance money from overseas workers, remittances sent by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) represent the largest proportion — almost 14% —  of their country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — making overseas Filipino workers one of the largest contributors to the Philippine economy.

Here are the numbers:

Flag of the Philippines.svg
Total populatioN WORKING OVERSEAS
11,000,000+ estimates
Regions with significant populations
 United States 2,877,666
 Saudi Arabia 1,159,003
 Malaysia 900,000
 Canada 639,686
 UAE 609,704
 Japan 350,972
 Australia 336,140
 Qatar 263,980
 Spain 241,268
 United Kingdom 200,987
 Mexico 200,000
 Hong Kong 168,550
 Singapore 163,090
 Kuwait 155,744
 Italy 119,508
 Taiwan 94,283
 South Korea 81,395
 Germany 55,309
 Greece 51,656
 Bahrain 50,695
 France 50,013
 Oman 41,000
 Israel 39,002
 Jordan 32,896
 Lebanon 31,348
 Austria 29,824
 New Zealand 27,139
 Libya 23,713
 Guam 23,563
 Switzerland 22,431
 Norway 20,683
 Cyprus 20,284
Information from the Philippine Government and other sources in Wikipedia. Click on this link to the Wikipedia site “Overseas Filipino” for more details.

It was interesting to learn that there are over 1 million OFWs in Saudi Arabia (my cousin J.R. among them).  Also, the high number of Filipino workers in Malaysia and the UAE – United Arab Emirates, and the presence of OFWs in Norway and Switzerland.

Also see Lola Jane’s Filipino population related post: Chameleons: Why Filipinos live and work in just about every country in the world

More Philippine related post from this Lola, are here… including:

And if you are curious about what parts of the United States have established Filipino populations, click here to see the U.S. Census Bureau graphic that show states and percentage of Filipino populations) on my post about the Philippine-based Jollibee restaurant chain.

~ Lola Jane