Pope Francis in the Philippines: Aboard the Papal Flight

Pope Francis' week-long trip to Asia included a three-day stop in Sri Lanka and a four-day stop in the Philippines. During his pastoral trip, the Pope boarded four different aircraft belonging to three different flag carriers. As one can imagine, a Papal flight is no ordinary flight. 

pope francis airplane
Image Source: Sri Lankan Airlines
Since the Vatican does not have its own aircraft, the tradition has been for the Pope to rely on chartered aircraft. Traditionally, the Pope's outbound flights from Rome would be operated by Alitalia, the flag carrier of Italy, while the Pope's return flights to Rome would be operated by the flag carrier of the respective host nation that the Pope would be visiting.

The chartered jet is usually a regular airplane that has been set aside from commercial operations. However, some carriers have been known in the past to make special modifications to the aircraft in honour of the Papal flight. In 1981, Philippine Airlines installed a "Papal Suite" aboard one of its DC-10 aircraft, which it used to transport Pope John Paul II to Guam and Tokyo Haneda.

pope francis papal flight
Image Source: Sri Lankan Airlines
Media often refer to the Pope's flight as "Shepherd One." In the event that the host nation does not have a flag carrier that is able to meet the Vatican requirements for security, size, and other specifications, the Pope will return to Italy aboard an Alitalia aircraft.

pope francis aircraft
Image Source: Sri Lankan Airlines
On this trip to Asia, Pope Francis boarded an Alitalia Airbus A330 aircraft, which flew him and his entourage to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Upon completing his three-day visit to Sri Lanka, he boarded a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A340-300, which flew him to Manila. 

sri lankan papal flight
Image Source: Sri Lankan Airlines
In the Philippines, Pope Francis used a Philippine Airlines A320-200 on a trip between Manila and Tacloban. Philippine Airlines will also have the honour of flying the Pope back to Rome at the end of his four-day trip to the Philippines. 

philippine airlines pope francis
Image Source: Philippine Airlines
When the Pope travels overseas, it is often customary for him to send greetings to the heads of state of the country that the aircraft is flying over. This often serves as an opportunity to communicate with world leaders, fostering diplomatic ties. When Pope John Paul II flew to South Korea in 1989, he sent radio greetings to President Mikhail Gorbachev as the aircraft flew over Russian air space. Most recently, on his trip to South Korea in 2014, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his aircraft flew over China.

pope francis papal flight
Image Source: Philippine Airlines
"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation," said Pope Francis in his telegram to the Chinese head of state. 

Unlike Popes of the past, Pope Francis has a different style of travel. He shocked the world in 2013 when he was observed heading up the stairs to board the Papal aircraft bound for World Youth Day in Brazil carrying his own hand-luggage - a black attache case.

pope francis papal flight
Image Source: EPA
Being the modest man that he is, Pope Francis downplayed the act as "being normal."  In an interview, Pope Francis stated that, "What you are saying is a bit strange to me, that the photo has gone around the world. But we must get used to being normal, the normality of life." He added that his bag contained "a razor, his agenda, a prayer book, and a book on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a saint known for her practical approach to spirituality."

On board his Papal flights, Pope Francis also prefers to spend time on the flight getting to know the journalists travelling with him and enjoying an informal discussion with them as opposed to just the traditional question period.

flying with pope francis
Image  Source: Rappler
Joe Torres, the national correspondent of the Union of Catholic Asian News, was selected as one of fourteen Filipino journalists that accompanied Pope Francis from Rome to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Torres has been covering the Pope's Philippine trip on behalf of Rappler. Most recently, he shared his experience travelling aboard the Papal plane.

Torres recalled his encounter with Pope Francis aboard flight AZ 4000 from Rome to Sri Lanka. He noted that the Pope greeted the group of journalists stating, "I thank you for your company in this trip, and I wish you a good trip." Pope Francis joked afterwards that there would be "a lot of work."

pope francis papal flight
Image Source: Rappler
According to Torres, the security check was thorough prior to the Papal flight. "There are no scanners. Instead security personnel go through every item inside one's luggage," said Torres. "Airline personnel then collect the passports and immigration papers of all the journalists. These will only be returned at the end of the trip.

Just prior to boarding, Torres noted that envelopes were provided to each of the journalists containing press credentials for the destination country and copies of the Pope's speeches. Upon boarding the aircraft through the rear door, journalists are able to choose their own seat as it is open seating. However, photographers and television cameramen are given assigned seating in order to provide them with seamless aisle access. The middle section of the aircraft remains vacant, while the front is reserved for the Pope and accompanying officials from the Vatican.

During the first fifteen minutes of the flight, Torres observed the Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, emerging to inform the journalists that the Pope would be spending a few minutes to greet his travel companions. However, he warned everyone to "stay seated."

When the Pope arrived, he offered all of the journalists a friendly greeting before meeting each one personally. According to Torres, the Pope made his way down the aisle and approached each one of the journalists on board. "When my turn came, he held out his hand. I shook it and brought it to my forehead to do the traditional "mano," the Filipino way of greeting elders with respect," said Torres. "I told the pope I am a Filipino — one of the 14 Filipino journalists on the flight of 73. He smiled and said "very good" and "welcome."

papal flight blessing
Image Source: Rappler
The opportunity to meet Pope Francis aboard the Papal aircraft is a rare opportunity and one that comes once in a lifetime for most. While most heads of state are known to travel regularly, Pope Francis prefers to limit his travels to essential journeys, unlike many of his predecessors. His decision is not based on a desire to isolate himself from his flock around the world, but more so rooted in his desire for a simple lifestyle that is devoid of luxury to honour the poor, while reflecting the kind of lifestyle Jesus Christ led in every possible way.

Filipinos may indeed get another opportunity to meet Pope Francis when the Pope is expected to return to the Philippines in January 2016 to attend the 51st International Eucharistic Congress from the 24th to the 31st.

1 comment:

  1. Let us pray for that event in January 2016 for Pope Francis to return to the Philippines.


Powered by Blogger.