01/15/2015 05:38 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT

Pope Francis arrives in Philippines

Pope Francis has arrived in the Philippines, Asia's most populous Catholic nation, where ecstatic crowds awaited the first papal visit in 20 years.

Church bells tolled across the country and hundreds of children danced and waved small Philippine and Vatican flags as the pontiff emerged from the plane and was welcomed by well-wishers led by President Benigno Aquino III at a Manila air base.

The government has declared national holidays during the pope's visit, which runs through Monday. He will be in the capital of Manila and fly Saturday to eastern Leyte province, where he plans to meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan that left thousands of people dead in 2013.

The pope's trip has given Philippine authorities daunting security challenges, including an outdoor Mass that could draw a record crowd.