In an executive order, the mayor of Manila has declared a five-day, non-working holiday for Pope Francis’ Jan. 15-19 visit — a decision the Philippine government is considering on a national level. “For now, the government’s top priority is to ensure the smooth conduct of activities during the papal visit,” Philippine Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told state-run radio station DZRB in an interview published Nov. 30 in leading Philippine newspaper “In order to attain this, we are considering the possible declaration of a holiday (during the visit of Pope Francis).” At the city level, Manila mayor Joseph Estrada’s executive order has already declared the suspension of classes and a non-working holiday due to safety concerns surrounding the number of pilgrims expected to come for the papal visit. Although public order, safety and convenience were cited as key motives for Estrada’s decision, Marciano Paynor Jr., a member of the Papal Visit Central Committee, told Catholic radio station Radyo Veritas that it was not the only reason, reports. Paynor, a former ambassador to Israel, noted how a holiday was also declared for the 1995 visit of St. John Paul II, and that the holiday for Pope Francis’ trip would “enable Catholics who may want to take part in any of the papal activities to do so.” Officially announced by the Vatican in July, the Pope’s visit had been unofficially revealed by the pontiff himself during an in-flight press conference on his way back from the Holy Land in May. His visit to the Philippines falls directly after his Jan. 12-14 trip to Sri Lanka. Fr. Gregory Ramon Dacer Gaston, rector of the Pontifical Filipino College, said that the declaration of a holiday for the papal visit, even on a local level, shows the importance of the event for the Filipino people. “For Filipino Catholics, the Pope is truly the representative of Christ on earth. Even a Bishop's visit to a parish would already be a very, very special event, so how much more if the Pope himself comes to town!” he told CNA in a Dec. 3 email interview. As in many other countries, Pope Francis is seen in the Philippines as “a real father” who is close to each person, and who is now coming to visit his children, the priest explained. Many Filipinos still have vivid memories of St. John Paul II’s visit, he said, noting how “everyone looks forward to this new Papal visit (and) memorabilia of Pope Francis is already circulating, preparing the people for his coming.” Fr. Gaston revealed that is also being considered to join the journalists aboard the papal plane as Radyo Veritas’ correspondent to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He currently speaks with them on a weekly basis for their nationwide broadcast. The people will want to listen to the Pope and see him, whether it is up close or from a distance, Fr. Gaston observed, but above all they will want simply be with him. “They will be proud to show their ‘selfies’ even with the Pope far away in the picture, and (will be) happy to be able to say, ‘I was with Pope Francis!’”