Jubilant Throng Gives Pope a Roaring Welcome in Streets of Manila

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos spilled jubilantly into the streets of Asia's only predominantly Catholic capital Thursday in roaring welcome to Pope John Paul II, who arrived from Rome with a limp in his stride but a twinkle in his eye.

Cheering crowds evaded police to cluster around the "popemobile" as it nosed, behind schedule, along a six-mile route into the heart of this throbbing, kaleidoscopic metropolis of 7.9 million.

About 20,000 police and troops provided security. Police said a man with a pistol who was arrested Thursday along the papal route had papers identifying him as a paid police informant, but he was not authorized to have a pistol.

Well-wishers standing five and six deep waved yellow-and-white flags and kerchiefs to welcome John Paul's return to Manila after 14 years. Polyglot banners hung from trees, light poles and office windows.

The 74-year-old pontiff appeared briefly on the balcony of the apostolic nuncio's residence, where he is staying, to salute a huge crowd chanting: "John Paul II, we love you."

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim estimated the crowd, which was welcoming the Pope for a four-day visit to attend World Youth Day observances, at more than a million. Manila police believed that it was even bigger.

"For a long time, I have looked forward to stepping onto Philippine soil once more," the Pope said at Manila airport on a hot, humid afternoon at the start of an 11-day, four-nation Asian tour.

He walked haltingly down the 24 steps from his plane and was handed his silver-headed black cane when he reached the tarmac.

Arrival ceremonies with President Fidel V. Ramos, the first Protestant president in an overwhelmingly Catholic nation of 65 million, were on schedule until the smiling Pope ventured into a group of about 1,000 costumed schoolchildren who greeted him with traditional dances at the airport.

As he launched the 63rd foreign trip of his reign, the Pope appeared with good color, firm voice and crackling wit in the reporters' cabin soon after the Alitalia jet left Rome on Wednesday night.

Joking and teasing, he parried questions in English, Italian, Spanish, French and German for about half an hour, despite attempts by his spokesman to hustle him away to dinner.

"As you can see, I am using a cane. And this cane is for clouting the people who get out of line, maybe even some journalists," he said.

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John Paul has walked with difficulty and the aid of his cane since surgery to repair his right leg, broken in a fall last April.

History's most-traveled Pope was forced to cancel visits to Belgium and the United States last year because of his leg.

Also on the travel horizon, he told reporters, are pastoral visits this year and next to Lebanon, Africa, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

He talked about visits to Berlin and Austria in 1996, and let slip that the next World Youth Day celebrations, in 1997, will be held in Paris.

John Paul begins the substantive part of his Philippine visit today with a courtesy call on Ramos, public Mass at St. Thomas of Manila, the world's largest Catholic university, and remarks to students afterward.

On Monday, the Pope journeys to Papua New Guinea, with later stops in Australia and Sri Lanka before returning to the Vatican at the end of next week.

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