‘Daily typhoons’ to welcome Pope in Philippines

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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‘Daily typhoons’ to welcome Pope in Philippines
Still, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle stresses: 'There is always a Resurrection. And I hope the Holy Father will see that among those who have suffered and continue to suffer.'

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Richelle Alcaraz, a 26-year-old resident of a typhoon-ravaged community by the sea, is torn between two emotions as Pope Francis arrives in the Philippines on Thursday, January 15: She is excited and also afraid.

Alcaraz, who lives in Anibong village in Tacloban City, looks forward to seeing the Pope, on one hand, because he is a sign of hope.

On the other hand, she fears the days when the Pope is visiting the Philippines. This is because the Philippines’ state weather bureau has reported that Tropical Storm Amang (international name Mekkhala) entered the Philippines on Thursday morning, several hours earlier than expected. This means people like Alcaraz might need to evacuate again.

It’s a striking coincidence that Mekkhala threatens the Philippines during the visit of Pope Francis, who’s arriving because of another calamity: Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which devastated the province of Leyte, including Tacloban City, in November 2013.

This coincidence emerged, however, because typhoons like Mekkhala and Yolanda remain a constant in this disaster-prone country. Not only that, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said. He pointed out that the Philippines is also struggling with other “daily typhoons,” which the Pope is expected to address in his speeches here. 

In an interview with Vatican Radio about the papal visit, Tagle said: “Yes, we’re used to having typhoons – an average of 20 to 22 a year. We’re used to having earthquakes of different magnitudes. They catch the attention of the world because of the extent of the devastation.”

“But as I’ve said on many occasions,” he added, “we should not forget the daily typhoons, the daily earthquakes, caused by poverty, caused by corruption, caused by indecent business deals and unfair practices. Even when the sun is shining, darkness sets in on the lives of so many people.”

Kinds of ‘daily typhoons’

One of these “daily typhoons” is, of course, the slow pace of rehabilitation efforts for Yolanda survivors.

People like Alcaraz, for example, continue to live in danger zones, or areas at high risk whenever there’s a storm. In November 2014, the first year after Yolanda, around 14,100 Yolanda survivors remained in danger zones like Anibong. (READ/WATCH: The Tacloban that Pope Francis won’t see)

It’s interesting to see how Francis will address the problems of Yolanda survivors in his speeches in Leyte, which he will visit on Saturday, January 17. (READ: Pope Francis, the climate activist)

The Pope will hold other events connected to “daily typhoons” in the Philippines.

On Friday, January 16, Francis will meet with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, then address the diplomatic corps. Will he tackle aspects of Philippine politics? In addressing the diplomatic corps, how will he show the pilgrim-diplomat seen in his other trips abroad? (READ: Past popes and Philippine presidents and Pope of the fringes: Francis as pilgrim-diplomat

On Friday, he will meet with bishops, priests, and consecrated persons at the Manila Cathedral. On Saturday, he will do the same thing for bishops, priests, and consecrated persons at the Palo Cathedral in Leyte.

How will Francis address, for one, the lavish lifestyles of many Filipino priests – which the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines himself, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, warned against at the start of 2015? (READ: CBCP head slams priests in costly shirts, cars

‘There’s always a Resurrection’

Still on Friday, the Pope will meet with Filipino families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. What can Filipinos learn from the Pope who called for the historic Synod of Bishops on the Family? (READ: #PopeFrancisPH: 4 challenges facing Filipino families

Then on Sunday, January 18, he will meet with various religious leaders at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila. How will he uphold harmony among different faiths in the Philippines? (READ: ‘All religions should promote peace’)

Also on Sunday, the Pope will address the youth at UST. What challenges for the youth will he discuss, especially in the social media age? (READ: Crisis in faith due to Church scandals)


And finally, when he holds his concluding Mass at the Rizal Park on Sunday, what piece of advice will he give the Catholic Church in the Philippines? It’s interesting to note that the Philippines and the Pope’s native Argentina face the same challenge: a declining interest in the Catholic Church. (READ: Lolo Kiko: People’s Pope)

Despite these “daily typhoons,” however, Tagle reminded Catholics in the Philippines that “the Christian message doesn’t end with suffering.” “There is always a Resurrection. And I hope the Holy Father will see that among those who have suffered and continue to suffer,” he told Vatican Radio. 

Tagle said it best in the media briefing on July 29, 2014, when he announced the dates of the Pope’s trip to the Philippines: “We, who experience an average of 20 to 22 typhoons a year, we can show the world what it means to be pained, to clean up, to stand again, and to face another morning.”

As for Alcaraz, Super Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) destroyed her shanty by the sea in December 2014. But she and her children rebuilt their house – as in the story of Christ’s Resurrection – in 3 days.

Still, Alcaraz told Rappler, “Napapagod kami (We’re getting tired).”

‘Thunderously enthuastic’ crowd awaits

In general, however, Catholics in Leyte remain in “high spirits” even if a storm threatens the Pope’s trip, Palo Archdiocese spokesman Fr Chris Militante told Rappler. 

The Philippines, after all, is the Catholic Church’s passionate heartland in Asia. 

Coming from Sri Lanka, Francis has said his two-nation tour aims to add momentum to an already impressive growth for the Church in Asia, with its support in the Philippines the benchmark for the rest of the region.

Eighty percent of the former Spanish colony’s 100 million people practice a famously fervent brand of Catholicism, and the Pope is set to enjoy thunderously enthusiastic crowds throughout his stay.

The high point is expected to be an open-air Mass at dusk on Sunday at a park in Manila, with organizers preparing for up to 6 million people – more than the crowd gathered at the same place for Pope John Paul II in 1995 – despite a forecast of rain and security concerns. (READ: Pope Francis in Luneta: Things you should know)

“I really want to see the Pope, not just see him on a TV, so I am prepared to sacrifice,” said saleswoman Vanessa Tupaz, 54, referring also to worries about the dangers of being in such a huge crowd.

“There is a feeling that blessings will be coming and there will be answered prayers and naturally, there will be a feeling that you are part of a celebration.”

Security concerns

The drawback of the Pope’s trip, said Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang, is a security nightmare in the Philippines, where attempts have been made to kill visiting popes twice before.

In his Manila visit in 1970, Pope Paul VI was stabbed by Bolivian painter Benjamin Mendoza, donned in a fake priest’s cassock, upon the pontiff’s arrival at the Manila airport. A week before his arrival in the Philippines in 1995, police uncovered a plot by foreign Islamist extremists to assassinate Pope John Paul II.

To secure Francis, then, nearly 40,000 soldiers and police are being deployed to protect the pontiff. In Leyte, wooden barricades have also been installed to stop the crowds from mobbing the Pope.

Potential stampedes from the giant crowds, as well as the threat of Islamic militants or lone-wolf assailants are among the concerns. (READ: Terror scenarios in Pope visit)

Aquino made a nationally televised address on Monday, January 12, specifically to highlight the security threats for the Pope and call on all Filipinos to help protect him.

“I ask you, do you want history to record that a tragedy involving the Pope happened in the Philippines,” Aquino said.

Adding to the concerns, the 78-year-old pontiff has insisted he will not travel in a bullet-proof “popemobile” during his big events so can he be closer to the faithful.– with reports from Agence France-Presse/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