Under fire from bishops, 'No religion' T-shirts for Pope visit pulled from Philippine stores

A stall run by a local trader for the Catholic church-funded broadcasting firm Radyo Veritas selling memorabilias marking Pope Francis' visit next month to the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic nation. Business has been brisk, with black T-shirts
A stall run by a local trader for the Catholic church-funded broadcasting firm Radyo Veritas selling memorabilias marking Pope Francis' visit next month to the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic nation. Business has been brisk, with black T-shirts bearing the Pontiff's image and rosaries selling the most., according to one of the store clerks. Radyo Veritas takes a 15 per cent cut from sales. Another Philippine broadcaster, ABS-CBN television network, has had to pull out T-shirts from its stores after coming under fire from Catholic bishops irked by the words "no religion" emblazoned on them. -- ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines's largest broadcaster pulled souvenir T-shirts for an upcoming papal visit from its stores on 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 Pope Francis' "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."

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 Jan 15 for a four-day visit, during which he will meet 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.