Cherrie Anderson, lead singer of electro-pop band ooberfuse, was born and raised in Tacloban until the age of seven. When news broke in London and around the world that a rare super typhoon, 270kph in intensity with at least seven metres of storm surge, had hit her home town on November 8 2013 many frantic hours were spent late into the night hopelessly trying to contact her family.
The devastation that followed in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was on an unprecedented scale. Our host here in Tacloban over 12 months later, in an attempt to help my Western mind get to grips with the vastness of its impact, compared the destruction to the Second World War. It ravaged across 44 of the 81 provinces that make up the Philippines, destroying the lives of thousands and the livelihoods of millions.
As we wander the streets today Yolanda’s toll is etched in lines on the faces of the survivors and in the outstretched hands of the street children clutching their sleeping mats.
Behind the bustle of normal life, which seems to have returned to some kind of normality, the trauma has left deep scars. Some people have gone insane with grief, wondering why their entire family was taken but they were left behind.
In this predominantly Catholic country perhaps only someone of Pope Francis’s world stature and spiritual sensitivity could bring relief and consolation to the otherwise inconsolable. In our rehearsal of Mercy last night, one of three songs providing the soundtrack for the papal visit, the ongoing grief and emotional turmoil was palpable in the testimonies and musical presentations of youth survivors.
As I write this, with less than 24 hours to go until Francis touches down on the runway of Tacloban airport, papal mania is reaching fever pitch. The president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, is reminding everyone, however, to “let us not forget that the primary reason for the papal visit is to console victims”.