Under fire from bishops, Pope shirts pulled from Philippine stores

Under fire from bishops, Pope shirts pulled from Philippine stores
Pope Francis waves as he leaves after a meeting with large families to mark the Holy Family of Nazareth feast in Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 28, 2014.

MANILA - The Philippines's largest broadcaster pulled souvenir T-shirts for an upcoming papal visit from its stores Monday, after coming under fire from Catholic bishops irked by the words "no religion" emblazoned on them.

Pope Francis, who has been praised for being reform-minded regarding long-contentious issues such as remarriage, divorce and homosexuality, will visit the deeply Catholic country in January.

The T-shirts printed by the ABS-CBN television network bore the statement "No race. No religion. I embrace diversity" and were marketed with the hashtag .PopeTYSM -- meaning "Thank you for the compassion" in Tagalog.

While acknowledging that the statement was intended to convey Francis's "openness", the message was "misleading and quite frankly erroneous," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines.

"We urge our Catholic faithful not to patronise items with misleading posts and statements," he said.

"(Francis) has never said and taught that religion and race do not matter, because they most certainly do. It is what selfish, uncharitable and judgemental people do with religion and race that is a problem," Villegas said.

ABS-CBN apologised and has pulled the t-shirts from its own shops and those of its retail partners.

Three of the broadcaster's other shirt designs, which bore the statements "Who am I to judge?", "Thank you for the compassion", and "Speak less, act more" were still on sale.

Pope Francis will arrive in Manila on January 15 for a four-day visit during which he will meet with President Benigno Aquino, comfort victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in central Leyte island, and celebrate mass for millions in the capital's largest outdoor park.

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