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Filipinos pray for safety of Pope Francis ahead of visit

A worshipper holds a rosary inside the Basilica of the Holy Child in Tacloban, Philippines (CNS)

The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has ordered all military chaplains to dedicate their daily rosary for the safe visit of Pope Francis to their country in January.

Gen Gregorio Catapang Jr gave the directive yesterday during a Mass at the military headquarters cathedral to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the date of the first Marian apparition in Fatima, Portugal.

In a statement, the military said his message also asked all Catholic service members to also pray a rosary daily for the Pope’s safety when he visits the Philippines from January 15 to 19.

Father Bernardo Odfina, a lieutenant colonel and acting armed forces chief chaplain, said: “We are very much concerned for the successful visit of the Holy Father, Pope Francis here in the Philippines; and as father of the AFP, General Catapang is responsible for leading the whole armed forces in supporting the government’s efforts to ensure the safe and peaceful visit of the holy pope.”

In September, reports surfaced that the Islamic State group announced it was targeting the Pope, possibly during his travels.

In early October, Catapang said military intelligence officials did not have information regarding any terror threat here to Pope Francis, but a Manila-based security analyst said the government should take the Islamic State fighters’ threat “very, very seriously.”

In his message during the Mass, Catapang also enjoined the military to include in their daily prayers kidnap victims they believe are being held by Abu Sayyaf, a Muslims separatist group in southern Philippines. The military says the group is holding several foreign nationals, including Europeans and Asians.

Abu Sayyaf was a Muslim rebel splinter group that started in the early 1990s with money from al-Qaeda, but after funding dried up in the early 21st century, the rebels resorted to kidnappings for ransom and became notorious for beheadings and bombings.