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Pope ‘reduced to silence’ hearing Yolanda survivors’ stories

Katerina Francisco
Pope ‘reduced to silence’ hearing Yolanda survivors’ stories
During lunch in Palo, Leyte, with 30 survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the Pope was asked if he wanted to say a few words. 'What can we say?' was his reply.

MANILA, Philippines – Deviating from the homily prepared for his Mass in Tacloban City Saturday morning, January 17, Pope Francis told disaster survivors that he had “no more words” to express his solidarity with those who lost loved ones to Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.

However, the Argentine pontiff, who had wanted his one-day Visayas trip to be the core of his visit, fell silent as he listened to some 30 survivors share their personal stories of loss and pain.

In a press conference in Manila on Saturday evening, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said Pope Francis was “reduced to silence” and merely shook his head as the survivors told their stories during a lunch at the Archbishop’s Residence in Palo, Leyte.

Speaking to reporters several hours after the Pope cut short his Leyte trip due to a storm, Tagle teared up as he recalled the “intimate encounter.”

“I’ll never forget the face of the Holy Father. You could see him just shaking his head,” Tagle said. 

“Before these 30 persons, the Pope himself was reduced to silence. [It was] the communion and solidarity that happens in silence,” he added.

Tagle said that when he asked the Pope if he wanted to say a few words to the survivors, the Pope said: “What can we say?”

It was a similar sentiment to the homily he delivered in an open-air mass at the Tacloban airport grounds, where he landed early Saturday despite an oncoming storm.

Wearing a yellow raincoat – similar to the ones donned by the thousands of people who showed up to attend the Mass – the Pope told the crowd: “So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you.”

‘This visit is for me’

Pope Francis’ events in Leyte – the highlight of his 5-day visit – had to be rushed, because the pilot had advised the Vatican to fly out to Manila by 1 pm before Tropical Storm Amang hit land.

Despite the bad weather, Tagle said the Pope tried his best to “meet all the expectations” of his Leyte trip, even finding time to stop by the house of a poor family.

Tagle said it was the first time for the Pope to celebrate Mass while wearing a raincoat, but the Pope insisted on holding an open-air Mass after seeing the rain-soaked crowds waiting for him. 

“The Pope said, ‘I’m here to show solidarity. If the people sacrificed under the rain, why should the pastor not be with them?’ Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi quoted the Pope saying.

Lombardi added, “This experience of celebrating Mass with a storm has a profound meaning to Pope, because this is exactly the experience of the people.”

During the Mass, the Pope put aside a prepared homily and delivered his message in Spanish, with an aide translating in English.

Lombardi said the Pope does this whenever he “feels the emotion and strength is there to express more spontaneously.”

Tagle added that the Pope “showed the heart of a pastor” when he decided to “speak from the heart” instead. 

He also said that when he asked the Pope how he was feeling after meeting the 30 survivors at the Archbishop’s Residence, Francis replied, “This visit is really for me. I’m learning.”

The pontiff also said that he would dedicate his Mass in Rizal Park on Sunday, January 18, for those who died during the Super Typhoon Yolanda. Government estimates that more than 6,000 died in that typhoon. –

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