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The strongest force

The rain began to lash the papal flight at the first sight of the island of Leyte and did not let up until after it landed over four hours later. Little more than a year ago, this Philippine island was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, which claimed thousands of victims and inflicted overwhelming damage. 

The Pontiff was tenacious in his desire to reach this destination and that of Manila, but he had to hasten his scheduled appointments due to the arrival of Tropical Storm Makkhala (Amang). The wind, powerfully gusting, even caused the tragic death of a volunteer and disrupted the departure of another airplane which skidded off the runway immediately after the Pontiff’s return flight took off for the capital.

In Tacloban, nearly 200,000 attended the Mass which Francis celebrated in the battering rain. Perhaps just as many waited along the roads for even just a glimpse of Lolo Kiko, as they have affectionally “re-baptized” Pope Bergoglio, who tirelessly greeted them, drenched by the rain as he passed. At the moment of the homily, the Pope decided to simplify his prepared text, improvising in Spanish. “When I witnessed his disaster from Rome, I felt that I had to be here. That is when I decided to come here. I wanted to come to be with you. Maybe you will tell me that I came a little late; that is true, but here I am!”, he began.

And as Francis looked to a Crucifix, then to a Madonna with the Baby Jesus in her arms and a little child at her feet, Francis explained God’s compassion: “I am here to tell you that Jesus is Lord; that Jesus does not disappoint. ‘Father’, one of you may tell me, ‘He disappointed me because I lost my house, I lost everything I had, I am sick’. What you say is true and I respect your feelings, but I see Him there, nailed to the cross, and from there He does not disappoint us”. And shortly thereafter: “With Him, beneath the cross, is his Mother. We are like that child who stands down there”, and like Him, we “reach out, cling to her skirts and say to her in our hearts: ‘Mother’. Let us make this prayer in silence”.

Even in our greatest sorrow, the Pope continued, “we are not alone; we have a Mother; we have Jesus, our older brother. We are not alone. And we also have many brothers and sisters who, when the disaster struck, came to our assistance. We too feel more like brothers and sisters whenever we help one another, whenever we help each other”. These are the fruits of the compassion of God who suffers with man. The prepared text for the homily read: “Here, the strongest storm ever recorded on earth was overcome by the strongest force in the universe: God’s love. We are here this morning to bear witness to that love, to its power to transform death and destruction into life and community”.

Afterwards, as the winds and rains intensified, Francis made three gestures of sharing: at the Archbishopric of Palo, which was heavily damaged by Yolanda, he attended a luncheon with 30 families who survived the Super Typhoon; he blessed a new centre for the poor; and he prayed in the cathedral with the sisters, men and women religious, priests and seminarians. They, along with countless volunteers, make every effort in every possible way for the survivors. They live every day for Him, as silent witnesses to God’s mercy and the power of the Gospel.

g.m.v.

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St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 21, 2018

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