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Rome, Nick Squires: Pope Francis has weighed into the debate over freedom of expression in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, saying that anyone who insults a religion can expect “a punch in the nose”. In provocative remarks which may cause consternation in France, the Pope said that freedom of expression had its limits, especially if it involved insulting or ridiculing religion.
Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane at Bandaranaike International Airport near Colombo. Pope Francis will immerse himself in the Catholic Church’s passionate and chaotic Asian heartland as he lands in the Philippines for a five-day trip that is tipped to attract a world-record papal crowd. Photo: LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images
He made the forthright comments to journalists on board his official plane as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the two stops on his week-long visit to Asia.
Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”
Throwing a pretend punch, the Pope said: “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
His remarks came a week after Islamic extremists stormed into the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shot dead 12 members of staff, including some of its best known cartoonists, who for years had poked fun at Islam as well as other religions, including Christianity.
On Wednesday the magazine released a “survivors’ issue” which featured an image of the Prophet Mohammed on its front cover.
The edition also included highly provocative cartoons about the Catholic Church.
The Pope in no way condoned the attack on Charlie Hebdo, insisting that violence carried out in God’s name was “an aberration.”
“One cannot make war [or] kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”
But those who ridiculed another religion should expect some sort of reaction, he said.
The Pope received a rapturous welcome after touching down in Manila, with hundreds of thousands of people crowding the road from the airport to the city centre to see him pass by in a Popemobile.
Millions of Filipinos are expected to turn out to see him during the five-day trip to the heartland of Catholicism in Asia.
The visit presents a massive security challenge for the Philippine authorities, not just because of the huge crowds expected but because of the Pope’s refusal to travel in bullet-proof vehicles, which he says obstruct his contact with ordinary people.
Authorities have appealed to Filipinos not to turn “a moving target into a stationary one” by inadvertently blocking his vehicle to get close to him or to snap a “selfie” photograph.
“If someone blocks the convoy by trying to get near the Holy Father and the convoy stops, what was a moving target becomes a stationary target,” President Benigno Aquino said before the Pope’s arrival.
Up to six million Catholics are expected to attend a Mass to be given by the Pope in a park in Manila on Sunday.
The history of papal visits to the Philippines offers little reassurance – during the first-ever pontifical visit in 1970, a Bolivian man donned a fake cassock and swung a knife at Pope Paul VI as he arrived at Manila airport, wounding him.
In 1995, a week before John Paul II’s visit, police uncovered a plot by foreign Islamist extremists to kill him by bombing his motorcade route in Manila.
An assessment of potential threats against Pope Francis, compiled by the Philippines government, identified home-grown Islamist groups as well as al Qaeda and Isil, which has repeatedly threatened to “conquer Rome” and plant its black flag on St Peter’s Basilica.
Nearly 50,000 soldiers and police are being deployed to protect the pontiff during his trip to the Philippines, where around 80 per cent of the population is Catholic.
Gridlock is expected to be so bad in Manila that 2,000 traffic police have been ordered to wear adult nappies, so that they can answer the call of nature on the spot and not have to abandon their posts.