Pope Francis who arrived in Philippines on Thursday after a two day visit to the island nation of Sri Lanka today paid an emotional tribute to all those who were devastated by the 2013 typhoon Haiyan. The storm had destroyed nearly 90 percent of this central Philippines city situated in the Leyte province. More than 14.5 million people across six regions and 44 provinces had been were affected by it while about one million were rendered homeless.
The Pope was greeted to the city of Tacloban by fierce winds and rain. Tens of thousands of people in the predominantly Christian country braved the rains in yellow raincoats to cheer the pontiff. Last year’s typhoon was the worst ever natural disaster to hit the country- 155 mph winds and a seven meter high storm surge had wiped out everything that came its way on November 8, 2013.
Nearly 3,000 victims are buried in the city’s almost half-hectare mass grave site while hundreds are still unaccounted for.
According to government estimates, nearly 170 billion pesos ($3.8 billion) are required to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-meter high dike along the 17 miles coastline to prevent a repeat of the disaster.
The pontiff visited the city to pray for the dead and comfort the survivors. He began with a Mass near the airport donning a transparent yellow poncho as the rain Gods refused to relent.
“When I saw from Rome what had happened, I felt I had to be here,” he said as the wind whipped across the altar built on the apron of the newly reconstructed airport. “I’m a little late, but I’m here.”
“So many of you have lost everything,” he continued. “I don’t know what to say to you. Some of you lost part of your families. I can only keep silent….But the Lord knows what to say to you.”
Earlier on Friday too, the Pope had admired the “heroic strength, faith and resilience” shown by the Philippines as well as the solidarity people demonstrated after the typhoon while speaking at the presidential palace.
After the Mass at the airport, the Pope was scheduled to have lunch with 30 people who had survived the calamity before going for a tour of the newly built center for the poor which has been funded by the charitable arm of Vatican.