Pope visits typhoon-hit Philippines to console survivors

PTI Tacloban | Updated on March 12, 2018

Pope Francis visited the far eastern Philippines today to comfort the survivors of a devastating 2013 typhoon, braving rains and heavy winds himself and conceding that it was hard to find the right words when surrounded by so much pain.

“So many of you have lost everything,” Francis told 150,000 Catholic faithful gathered before Mass under a steady rain in an open field near the airport in Tacloban, the city hit hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

“I don’t know what to say to you, but the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you lost part of your families.

All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.”

Many in the crowd wept as Francis spoke, overcome by the memory of the November 8, 2013, storm that levelled entire villages with ferocious winds and 7-meter (21-foot) waves and left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.

Francis joined them in solidarity, even donning the same yellow rain poncho over his vestments that Mass-goers were given to protect them from the storm.

He drew applause when he told them that he had decided to visit the city of 200,000 in the eastern Leyte province in the days immediately after the storm.

“I wanted to come to be with you. It’s a bit late, I have to say, but I am here.”

Francis spoke in his native Spanish which he reverts to when he wants to speak from the heart. He ditched his prepared homily and instead composed a brief prayer off the cuff that began: “Thank you, Lord, for sharing our pain. Thank you, Lord, for giving us hope...”

As he spoke, the winds whipped the altar cloth and threatened to topple over the candlesticks.

Francis was scheduled to have lunch with the survivors of Haiyan and meet with the clergy who provided relief to the victims in the storm’s aftermath before returning to the capital, Manila.

But the Mass was pushed up by 45 minutes, and the rest of his day in Tacloban put into question by approaching Tropical Storm Mekkhala.

The storm, packing winds of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour, suspended ferry services to Leyte province, stranding thousands of travellers, including some who wanted to see the pope. With the winds strong enough to blow away thatched roofs common in the regions, it is forecast to slam ashore on nearby Samar Island later today.

A police official estimated the crowd at 150,000 before the pope’s arrival and said tens of thousands more were lined up outside the airport area.

Wearing plastic raincoats, the festive crowd in the city clapped in unison to blaring music welcoming the pope, cheering when his plane landed after the hour-long flight from Manila.

Published on January 17, 2015

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