Pope Francis has braved a tropical storm to encourage survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which left much of the central Philippines devastated 14 months ago.
In an emotional, off-the-cuff talk, he acknowledged their despair yet promised that, thanks to the love of Jesus and Mary, they were not alone.
Pope Francis arrived at Tacloban International Airport a little before 9 am after a bumpy 75-minute-long flight from Manila. For his short ride in an open-sided popemobile to the site of the open-air Mass, he donned the same kind of yellow plastic poncho worn by the hundreds of thousands of people awaiting him in the rain. He kept the poncho on while he celebrated Mass, as strong winds blew.
For his homily, the Pope abandoned his prepared English text to improvise in his native Spanish with the aid of an interpreter.
He recalled his initial reaction, on November 8 2013, to the typhoon that claimed some more than 7,300 lives and destroyed more than a million homes.
“When I saw that catastrophe from Rome, I felt that I had to be here, and on that day I decided to be here. Now I have come to be with you — a little but late, but I am here,” the Pope said.
“I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord and he never lets us down. ‘Father,’ you might say to me, ‘he defrauded me, because I lost my house, I lost what I had, I am sick.’ That’s true, if you would say that, and I respect those sentiments. But I see him there nailed to the Cross and from there he does not let us down,” Pope Francis said.
“So many of you have lost everything, I don’t know what to say to you. But he does know what to say to you,” the Pope said.
“And beside him on the Cross was his mother,” the Pope said, pointing to a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus. “We are like that little child there. In moments of pain, when we no longer understand and want to rebel, all we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and tell her ‘mum’, as a child says to his mother when he is afraid. Maybe that is the only word we can say in such difficult times: ‘mother, mum’.”
Pope Francis concluded on a solemn yet hopeful note, drawing a link between the consolation of faith and the solidarity among those working to rebuild the area.
“We have a mother, we have our older brother Jesus, we are not alone,” the Pope said. “We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help us. And we, too, feel more like brothers and sisters because we have helped each other.”
“Let us move forward, always forward, and walk together as brothers and sisters in the Lord,” he said, before the entire congregation observed a moment of silence.
Worsening weather conditions then forced the Pope to leave the island of Leyte four hours earlier than scheduled.
According to Vatican Radio, he addressed those gathered at Tacloban cathedral, saying: “I have to tell you something that makes me unhappy. The problem is that the way things were planned was that the plane would leave at 5pm this afternoon.
“But there’s a second-grade typhoon, or storm, that’s around us and the pilot of the plane has insisted we have to leave at 1pm. We just have time to get to the plane because the weather forecast says after 1pm it will get much worse. So I apologise to all of you.
“I am so sorry about this because I had something especially prepared for you. Let us leave everything in the hands of Our Lady because I have to go now. Do you know what the problem is? Aeroplanes can’t land here, that’s the problem.
“Let’s pray the “Hail Mary” together and then I will give you my blessing.”