Pope Francis arrives in Leyte to console Yolanda victims
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (UPDATED) – Pope Francis arrived to a stormy Tacloban City ahead of schedule on Saturday morning, January 17, to fulfill the primary purpose of his trip – to console Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims who have yet to recover from the late 2013 disaster.
Amid the threat of Tropical Storm Amang (Mekkhala), the papal plane landed safely at Tacloban airport at 8:47 am, ahead of schedule. The Pope disembarked from the plane at around 9 am without his skull cap, apparently anticipating that it would be blown away by the strong wind. (READ: FAST FACTS: Tacloban Airport)
Their spirits undampened by Amang, crowds in raincoats waved their hands and screamed at the mere sight of the plane, and cheered even louder when the Pope, wearing the same Church-provided raincoat, blessed and waved at them from the popemobile which brought him from the tarmac to the Mass site.
The Pope’s Leyte itinerary began with a Mass at the airport which can accomodate 160,000 people.
Francis, who celebrated Mass still wearing the yellow raincoat, assured Yolanda survivors in his homily that Jesus will never let them down. (READ: Pope In Tacloban: 'I am here to be with you')
After the Mass, Francis proceeded to the archbishop's residence in Palo, Leyte, to have lunch with 30 survivors of Yolanda and the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit the Visayas in 2013. (READ: FAST FACTS: Archdiocese of Palo (Leyte) and the archbishop's residence)
The Pope was supposed to bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, and meet with around 50 persons with disabilities, orphans, and the elderly. (READ: FAST FACTS: Pope Francis Center)
The visit was capped with a brief meeting with priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, and families of Yolanda survivors at the Palo Cathedral, where the pontiff apologized for cutting short his stay in Leyte – from 5 pm to 1 pm – due to weather conditions.
Ahead of schedule
Braving Amang, which intensified further on the day of his visit to Leyte, the Pope left the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila around 7 am – earlier than scheduled – and left Villamor Air Base past 7:30 am, almost an hour earlier than scheduled due to weather considerations.
ANC reported that members of the papal delegation clapped as soon as the plane landed safely in Tacloban, after experiencing some turbulence when the plane hovered over the city.
Leyte and neighboring Samar island have been placed under Storm Signal Number 2 due to Amang, forecast to make landfall in Eastern Samar later that day.
Storm Signal No. 2 brings stormy weather with heavy to intense rains, but this did not deter the pontiff from heading to Leyte to console disaster victims.
Francis had earlier told the papal media delegation on their flight to Manila on January 15 that the “poor” of the Philippines are at the center of his visit, especially those who bore the brunt of Yolanda.
“The central message of this trip will be the poor, the poor who want to carry on, the poor who suffered from Typhoon Yolanda and who are still suffering the consequences, the poor who have faith and hope,” the Pope had told journalists in a news conference on the papal plane bound for Manila.
The pontiff was referring to the people of Eastern Visayas devastated in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that flattened the region on November 8, 2013. Over a year since the disaster, many are still struggling to recover, and to find permanent shelter and livelihood.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, is in the Philippines for a 5-day pastoral and state visit that began on January 15. – Rappler.com