Pope in the Philippines: 'A friend visiting a friend'
MANILA, Philippines – Of the 5 days Pope Francis will be in the Philippines, he will spend around 8 hours in Leyte on January 17 to meet survivors of both Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit the Visayas in 2013.
Despite the short hours, it’s a gesture that will bring comfort and hope to Filipinos who have been battered by disasters in recent years. Mercy and compassion, after all, is the theme of the Pope’s visit, and this message especially "hits home" in storm-hit Leyte.
"It’s not so much about the structures of society, [or] how societies are reacting. The way I see it, it’s as if a friend is coming to visit a friend who has been devastated by a storm [and] hurt by so many things going on," Robert Roa, a Jesuit volunteer based in Leyte, said during Rappler's Hangouts on Wednesday, January 7.
After Yolanda, Pope Francis has repeatedly prayed for the Philippines – first, during a ceremony to bless an image of St Pedro Calungsod in the Vatican, and again, in his first Christmas message in 2013.
It is also Francis’ wish "to bring Christ’s compassion" to people who suffered from the recent disasters in the Visayas – the main objective of his visit.
When relationships matter
During Wednesday’s Hangouts, Rappler invited guests to discuss why the Pope’s Philippine visit matters.
Jayeel Cornelio, a sociologist and professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, contrasted the excitement over the Pope’s visit in Leyte to how Tacloban has received its own national government.
"We know that Catholic Church has been instrumental in the recovery process in Tacloban...Much of the recovery process was carried out through the Catholic Church, [the] Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)…and other religious formations there, as opposed to the national government, which was seen by many people as very slow and marred [by] politics, unfortunately," he added.
Linus Van Plata, a policy researcher for the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces and an advocate of the Christian faith, was quick to defend the government. He said the government did its best and is learning its lessons after Yolanda.
"We cannot expect the government to do the job alone, and it really has to be a whole of government approach, and which means that it doesn’t preclude the Catholic Church from joining the table," he added.
But for Cornelio, there is a problem "if [the] national government, or any state official for that matter, is seen as a very cold entity" in the Philippines, whose culture places great importance on personal relationships.
In Leyte, for example, Roa said, people take visits of government leaders and non-governmental organizations personally.
"When people were not visiting, people were visiting, people here take it very personally…It really creates that relationship between people. Having someone of his (Pope Francis) stature come to Leyte, [to] Tacloban – an area that was devastated – it really means a lot to them," he explained.
Gretchen Ho, a volleyball player and an advocate of the Catholic faith, likened the Pope’s visit to Jesus "coming to you," and "reaching out" to people who are in need.
"For Filipinos, that is very important, because we are staunch believers of the Catholic faith, and the past year has been challenging for us. For him (Pope Francis) to come here and reach out to a country that has been down for the past years with the struggles, he’s a sign of hope," she added.
Amid all the excitement and preparations, Pope Francis earlier reminded Filipinos to make Jesus – not him – the focus of his Philippine trip. – Rappler.com
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