Possible storm could cancel Pope’s Leyte trip

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Possible storm could cancel Pope’s Leyte trip
If a storm affects Leyte, is Pope Francis willing to 'stay for another day and wait for the storm to pass' to achieve the purpose of his trip?

LEYTE, Philippines (UPDATED) – A looming storm prompted organizers of Pope Francis’ trip to the Philippines to consider canceling his visit to typhoon-ravaged Leyte, a Catholic Church spokesman said Tuesday, January 13.

In an interview with Rappler, Palo Archdiocese spokesman Fr Chris Militante said canceling the Pope’s trip to Leyte on Saturday, January 17, “was considered” because of a storm that threatens the province, which was worst hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.

“It was seen as one of the extreme scenarios, which cannot be denied really. If weather conditions turn to worse – if there’s a storm, and it’s Signal No. 3 – of course no airplane can fly on that day. So it was considered as a possible situation,” Militante said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He said another possibility, if there is a storm, is for his events in Leyte to be delayed by a few hours.

Militante explained it might be dangerous for the Pope to travel to Leyte if there is a storm – “unless,” he said, “the Holy Father will stay for another day and wait for the storm to pass.”

After all, the Pope “really wants to meet” Yolanda survivors. “That was reportedly the purpose of his trip to the Philippines.”

These possibilities came up after the Philippines’ state weather bureau said a low pressure area over the Pacific Ocean could become a storm by Thursday, January 15.

High spirits

Militante said that despite the threat of a storm, Catholics in Leyte remain in “high spirits” as they boost their preparations for the Pope’s visit. He added that Catholics continue to pray the Oratio Imperata, a prayer to avert disasters, “really hard.”

On Monday, January 12, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) clarified that the Pope considers his trip to Leyte as his top priority.

CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said that if organizers have to prioritize, his events in Manila – such as those at the University of Santo Tomas and the Rizal Park – can be canceled, but not those in Leyte.

Villegas explained that “the primary reason for the papal visit is really to console the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.”

Si Pope Francis, inimbita sa Sri Lanka, pero sa Pilipinas siya ang nag-volunteer na pumunta. Magkaiba ang dating nu’n. Malaking bagay ‘yun, na siya mismo ang nagsabing, ‘Gusto ko kayong dalawin,” he explained.

(Pope Francis was invited to Sri Lanka, but in the Philippines, he volunteered to come. There’s a difference. It’s a big thing, that he himself said “I want to visit you.”)

In Leyte, Francis is set to preside over a Mass at the Tacloban Airport, and later have lunch 30 survivors of Yolanda and the magnitude-7.2 earthquake in the Visayas. He is also scheduled to bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, which the Vatican donated, and to meet with priests and consecrated persons at the Palo Cathedral. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com