Pope Francis’ Mass at Quirino Grandstand: No smoking, please
MANILA, Philippines – If the most powerful smoker in the land could do it, why can’t ordinary smokers refrain from puffing during Pope Francis’ Mass in Quirino Grandstand?
On the eve of the pontiff’s much-awaited arrival on Thursday (Jan. 15), Interior Secretary Mar Roxas urged the faithful to observe the government’s strict security policy for the Pope’s five-day apostolic visit in the country.
This includes dissuading the public from lighting cigarettes while the Pope is celebrating Mass with thousands of Catholic priests at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park on Sunday.
In a news briefing, Roxas said the people who were planning to go to the events related to the papal visit should remember that the venues would be packed with individuals wanting to catch a glimpse of the Holy See and that these areas would be practically turned into places of worship.
He said even President Aquino, a habitual smoker, would “do a sacrifice” by not smoking during the 3:30 p.m. Mass at the historic park on Jan. 18, which is expected to draw millions of Catholics.
“Please don’t do that (smoking) there. Let’s treat the venue as if it’s a church. You don’t smoke in places of worship,” Roxas stressed.
“We, as a nation and as a community, will be the host (of this religious event). Let’s cooperate with one another. As hosts, we all have responsibilities. Let’s work together to make the visit of the Pope a success,” he said.
The interior secretary presided over a meeting of government security agencies to iron out last minute adjustments to the security plans. Along with Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, he also inspected the Quirino Grandstand.
Some 17,000 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) would be deployed to secure the Pope’s travel from the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, where his flight from Colombo was expected to arrive at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday (Jan. 15), to the Apostolic Nunciature in Malate, Manila.
Roxas said the policemen would form a human barricade along the roadside to avoid stampedes similar to what nearly happened in 1995 during the visit of then Pope John Paul II.
The interior secretary maintained that the government’s security plan was not meant to prevent the people from getting near the Pope, saying the deployment of state security forces would only ensure the safety of the Holy See and the public.
He said the people would be allowed to wait along the route of the Pope’s motorcade.
“We want the people to have a personal encounter with the Pope. That’s why we want to keep the roads open. The people won’t be able to approach the Pope if the roads are blocked,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Roxas said the President personally checked the areas that the Pope’s motorcade would pass through and suggested several improvements to the PNP’s security coverage.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Aquino was particular about the high-rise buildings around the Apostolic Nunciature which, he said, offered vantage points of the Pope’s official residence during his stay in the country.
Despite the President’s observations, Roxas expressed confidence that government had prepared enough to secure the beloved leader of the world’s biggest religious congregation.
“If we were able to secure (US) President Barack Obama, we can secure the Pope,” Roxas said.
To prevent stampede, Roxas said the Philippine National Police (PNP) would separate the crowd into several grids, each measuring about 40 meters by 40 meters.
He said the grids would be separated by collapsible physical barriers and would be manned by at least 400 Army reservists, eight policemen, 10 health personnel, 10 Red Cross volunteers and two marshals.
At least 30 giant LED monitors will be placed around the quadrants to offer the people a view of the Pope during the mass.
Director Carmelo Valmoria, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, said about 20,000 policemen would be stationed around Rizal Park (Luneta) for the Sunday mass.
According to Valmoria, the PNP will prohibit the people from holding vigils and staying overnight in Luneta on Saturday as part of its security preparation.
He said the venue would be open to the public as early as 6 a.m.
“We ask the public to cooperate with the policemen for their own good. We want to hold this religious and historic event as smoothly as possible,” Valmoria said.
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