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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Francis arrives in Tacloban, fourteen months after the devastation of typhoon Yolanda

Vatican City, 17 January 2015 (VIS) – On his second day in the Philippines, the Pope transferred by car from the apostolic nunciature of Manila to the Villamor Air Base to depart for Tacloban on the island of Leyte. The papal aircraft took off forty-five minutes before the scheduled time in order to bring forward his visit in view of a tropical storm approaching the coast. Fourteen months ago, on the morning of 8 November 2013, the area was devastated by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which left more than ten thousand victims in its wake and razed all buildings to the ground, including the airport of the city where Francis arrived today.

After an informal welcome from Archbishop John F. Du of Palo and the mayors of Tacloban and Palo, the Pope made the 600-metre journey by Popemobile to an esplanade able to hold half a million people, where he celebrated Mass despite the strong wind and rain. Francis gave the following off-the-cuff homily in Spanish.

“In the first reading, we heard that we have a great priest capable of sympathizing with our weakness, who in every respect has been tempted as we are. Jesus is like us. Jesus lived as we do. He is like us in everything. In everything but sin, for he was not a sinner. But to be even more like us, he took upon himself our sins. He became sin! This is what Paul tells us, and it was something that he knew well. Jesus goes before us always; when we experience any kind of cross, he was already there before us.

“If today all of us are gathered here, fourteen months after the passage of Typhoon Yolanda, it is because we are certain that we will not be disappointed in our faith, for Jesus has gone before us. In his passion He took upon himself all of our sorrows, and – let me tell you something personal – when I witnessed his disaster from Rome, I felt that I had to be here. That is when I decided to come here. I wanted to come to be with you. Maybe you will tell me that I came a little late; that is true, but here I am.

“I am here to tell you that Jesus is Lord; that Jesus does not disappoint. 'Father', one of you may tell me, 'He disappointed me because I lost my house, I lost everything I had, I am sick'. What you say is true and I respect your feelings, but I see Him there, nailed to the cross, and from there He does not disappoint us. He was consecrated Lord on that throne, and there He experienced all the disasters we experience. Jesus is Lord! And He is Lord from the cross, from there He reigned. That is why, as we heard in the first reading, He can understand us: He became like us in every way. So we have a Lord Who is able to weep with us, Who can be at our side through life’s most difficult moments.

“So many of you have lost everything. I do not know what to tell you. But surely He knows what to tell you! So many of you have lost members of your family. I can only be silent; I accompany you silently, with my heart.

“Many of you looked to Christ and asked: Why, Lord? To each of you the Lord responds from His heart. I have no other words to say to you. Let us look to Christ: He is the Lord, and He understands us, for He experienced all the troubles we experience.

“With him, beneath the cross, is His Mother. We are like that child who stands down there, who, in times of sorrow and pain, times when we understand nothing, times when we want to rebel, can only reach out and cling to her skirts and say to her: 'Mother!'. Like a little child who is frightened and says: 'Mother'. Perhaps that is the only word which can express all the feelings we have in those dark moments: Mother!

“Let us be still for a moment and look to the Lord. He can understand us, for He experienced all these things. And let us look to our Mother, and like that little child, let us reach out, cling to her skirts and say to her in our hearts: 'Mother'. Let us make this prayer in silence; let everyone say it whatever way he or she feels.

“We are not alone; we have a Mother; we have Jesus, our older brother. We are not alone. And we also have many brothers and sisters who, when the disaster struck, came to our assistance. We too feel more like brothers and sisters whenever we help one another, whenever we help each other.

“This is all that I feel I have to say to you. Forgive me if I have no other words. But be sure that Jesus does not disappoint us; be sure that the love and tenderness of our Mother does not disappoint us. Clinging to her as sons and daughters with the strength which Jesus our brother gives us, let us now move forward. As brothers and sisters, let us take up our journey. Thank you!”

Following the Eucharistic celebration the Pope left the island four hours before the scheduled time due to the inclement weather conditions and the approaching category two typhoon. He visited a house belonging to fishermen, devastated by the 2013 typhoon, and transferred rapidly to the archiepiscopal residence, situated on a hill at the foot of which there is a home for the elderly and orphans financed by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and blessed by the Pope today. He lunched briefly with thirty relatives of victims of Yolanda and a number of seminarians, and transferred to the “Pope Francis Centre for the Poor”, which he blessed from the Popemobile. He proceeded directly to the Cathedral of Palo where a meeting was scheduled with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and survivors of the typhoon, and explained to them that the adverse weather conditions would not permit the meeting to go ahead.

“We have just enough time to get to the aeroplane, since the forecasts tell us that the weather will worsen”, he said. “I apologise to all of you. I am so sorry about this, as I had something especially prepared for you. Let us leave everything in the hands of our Lady, as I have to leave now”.

He then transferred to the airport, again by Popemobile to enable him to greet as many people as possible. Finally, the papal aircraft departed for Manila and landed at the Villamor Air Base at 3 p.m. local time. From there, the Pope proceeded to the apostolic nunciature, greeting the faithful along the way.

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