GMa Leaves Tonight for Rome; Joins 200 Foreign Leaders for John Paul II's Funeral
Byline: GENALYN D. KABILING
I will bring love & prayers from Filipinos
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will fly to the Vatican late this evening and bring with her the final respects of the Filipino people to the late Pope John Paul II whom she regarded as the "great communicator of hope and freedom."
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye yesterday announced that the President postponed her planned Tuesday night trip to late Wednesday after the Vatican confirmed the 84-year-old pontiff would be buried on Friday morning (afternoon in Manila).
The President will depart at 11 p.m. tonight aboard a special Philippine Airlines flight from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 for a 14-hour trip to Vatican, Rome, where two million mourners and some 200 foreign leaders are expected to pay their last respects to the late Pope.
She will return to Manila on Saturday.
"I will bring to the Vatican the prayers and love of all the Filipino people," she said in brief remarks after her birthday mass at the San Agustin church in Lubao, Pampanga.
The President will lead a small delegation of senior government officials and the Church hierarchy to Fridays ceremonies for the late pontiff at the Vatican.
"Pope John Paul II, from his young life as a priest to his role as Pope, evolved as the voice of goodness, social justice and mans freedom to love," she said in Proclamation No. 822 declaring a period of national mourning until the popes burial and ordering all government offices to fly flags at half-mast.
"He transcended physical, religious and racial barriers, reaching out in the true Christian tradition, to all peoples of the world as a great communicator of hope and freedom," she added.
The President was originally scheduled to fly to Rome Tuesday night after her dinner with the delegates of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Malacanang.
Members of the official Philippine delegation are Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Leonida Vera, former Philippine Ambassador to Cambodia and now Social Security System (SSS) Chairman Thelmo Cunanan, Mrs. Gina de Venecia, and former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Dee.
Evangelina Lourdes, the youngest daughter of the President, is the only member of the First Family accompanying the President, Bunye said.
Cebu Cardinal Ricardo Vidal will join the Presidents special flight to Rome. The cardinal will join the conclave that will elect the next pope.
Also joining the special flight are Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, Bishop Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Socrates Villegas, Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, Bishop Oscar Solis, Fr. Leonardo Mercado, Sister Luz Solijon, Sister Ma. Luz Mijares, Sister Clarissa Valleque, and journalists Theresa Tunay and Belinda Cunanan.
Bunye made clear the government would shoulder only the travel expenses of individuals included in the official delegation list amid reports the Presidents party had increased to at least 100 people, including businessmen. "Those included in the non-official delegation will have to pay their own fare," he said.
He said the chartered PAL flight to Rome is "the most convenient" for the President since it would take her direct to the Vatican despite its steep price tag. A special flight often commands twice or thrice the amount of the ticket price of regular commercial flights.
Bunye said the President will have no other appointments in her last-minute trip to Rome, or any meeting with the Filipino communities in the area. "It may not be called for. The President is really to convey the condolences of the Filipino people on the death of the Holy Father," he said in a news briefing.
In Proclamation No. 822, the President said the Pope has a special place in the hearts of the Filipino people "who will fondly remember him as the Pope who canonized the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, and for visiting the Philippines twice, in February 1981 for a six-day pastoral visit and in January 1995 for the World Youth Day. …