THE VISIT of Pope John Paul It to the Philippines takes me back to the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1971 to that country. He went there to preside at the Asian Bishops' Conference which was being held in Manila. I was present at that Conference having been commissioned by the bishops of Pakistan to read a paper on "Education in Asia".
My most vivid recollection after ten long years is the acute embarrassment which I and several others experienced at the prevailing state of affairs.
For instance it was strongly rumoured that the then Cardinal of Manila had first contemplated reserving the entire Hilton Hotel for the six days of the Conference. Fortunately better counsels prevailed and we were saved from this further embarrassment.
The Conference was actually held in the magnificent auditorium of one of the Catholic colleges. It provided an excellent opportunity for the more militant students of the college to voice their protests against the Government of Marcos, and against the Cardinal of Manila.
Every morning the bishops arriving at the Conference had to run the gauntlet of these protesting students till finally they were banned from the premises. The Cardinal himself never' used the front entrance to the auditorium. He arrived and left under police escort through a back door.
The most glamorous figure at the religious services and at the recep tions was of course Imelda Marcos. the wife of the President. At the religious services she would arrive suitably attired and with her head modestly veiled ostentatiously holding a rosary and a prayer-book in her hands.
The most extravagant reception accorded to the Bishops of the Conference coincided with the opening of the Imelda Marcos Cultural Centre in Manila. The Centre was reputed to have cost 50 million dollars.
On that occasion it was Imelda Marcos and not her husband who acted as the chief host.
It is incredible that your report on' the state of the country today is almost identica? with what it was ten years ago, Then .despite the obstacles created by the Marcos Government, Pope Paul VI had his way and visited one of the shanty townships which surrounded the city.
It was a visit which received full publicity through the national as well as the international press, and hopes were fervently expressed that this gesture on the part of the Pope would lead towards greater social justice in the country.
What a vain hope that was. I wonder whether the visit of Pope John Paul II will have a better effect, but cannot confess to feeling any optimism on this.
Res S Raymond The Presbytery Upper Norwood London SE l9