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The Pope, the Philippines and a Typhoon

But Rosanna, it’s January,” an American client told me this morning, after his therapy session. “I know,” I agreed, “I’ve lived here most of my life and a typhoon in January? It’s never happened before, as far as I can remember.”

As we talked, Typhoon Mekkhala was bearing down on the  Eastern Visayan islands of Samar  and Leyte. In December last year, Super Typhoon Hagupit devastated parts of the island of Samar, and Tacloban City in Leyte was one of the places ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, when more than 7,000 people lost their lives.

Earlier in the morning, braving the oncoming typhoon, Pope Francis arrived in Tacloban City,  on the third day of his visit to the Philippines. The Pope celebrated mass at the airport where more than 300,000 people – mostly survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – sat and listened to the Pontiff explain how he felt several days after the typhoon leveled most of  Eastern Visayas: “I wanted to come to be with you. It’s a bit late, I have to say, but I am here.”

“So many of you have lost everything,” he said. He continued to express his solidarity with the survivors, many of whom were in tears, “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.”

Everyone in attendance – including the Pope – was wearing a yellow raincoat. It rained continuously and at one point the wind almost toppled the candelabrums on the altar. Pope Francis spoke in his native Spanish. He set aside the Homily he prepared and instead  offered a prayer of hope that began with the words: “Thank you, Lord, for sharing our pain. Thank you, Lord, for giving us hope…”

The Pope’s stay in the province of Leyte had to be cut short because Typhoon Mekkhala was expected to make landfall in a matter of hours. His entourage left shortly before the typhoon made landfall in nearby Samar province.

Pope Francis is the third Pope to visit the country – Pope Paul VI arrived in the Philippines in 1970 and Pope John Paul II visited twice, first in 1981 and then again in 1995.

“Why a typhoon now?” I asked aloud this morning after hearing the weather report. It’s a question many I’m sure are asking. Tomorrow, Sunday, the Pontiff will hold a mass in the afternoon, just as the storm passes nearby. No doubt about it, there will be a deluge of faithful devotees -. six million are expected to attend. We ask why, nevertheless, we brave the storms that come our way.

There are around 80 million Catholics in the Philippines, which is the third largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil and Mexico. Papal visits are important affairs in the country and Pope Francis’s arrival has enlivened the metropolis. You can literally feel the lightness all around. It’s so palpable.



Click here for images of the Pope’s visit to Tacloban City

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