TACLOBAN City, Jan. 14, 2016 – It has been a year since Pope Francis visited Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte yet the jubilation it brought lives on.
Tight security measures, inconveniences due to road traffic regulations, and the threat of Typhoon Amang on Jan. 17 last year didn’t deter the people of Eastern Visayas from flocking where the Pope was to set pass by.
A year after, Catholic faithful here continue to reminisce about their encounter with the Pope or at least what they had gone through in an effort to personally see St. Peter’s successor.
Essence of the visit
Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio, who at the time of the papal visit was rector of the St. John the Evangelist School of Theology (SJEST) in Palo and vice chairperson of the archdiocesan papal visit secretariat, remarked that the message of the Pope’s visit “should always be remembered.”
He encouraged the people in the Archdiocese of Palo to “get among ourselves and collaborate efforts so that we will not forget the essence of the visit of the Holy Father.”
“The people, especially of Tacloban, should always remember that the Pope visited the victims Yolanda and risked the danger posed by [typhoon Amang] that time,” he urged.
Remembering, he said, “It was the first time that the Pope said a Mass in raincoat and Pope Francis withstood the danger of the typhoon just to fulfill his promise to be with the victims of super typhoon Yolanda.”
“We could see so much of the humanity of the Holy Father in his visit, we could sense the greater importance of reality over ideas or the abstract,” he added.
Tacloban City Vice Mayor Jerry “Sambo” Yaokasin was among the hundred thousand persons who braved the storm to attend the Mass of Pope Francis at the apron of DZR Airport in Tacloban City on Jan. 17 last year.
Pope Francis also had a short talk at the Palo Cathedral in Tacloban, lunch in the Archbishop’s Palace in Bukid Tabor in Palo and blessed the nearby Pope Francis Center.
“This once-in-a-lifetime historic event is worth remembering regardless of religion, his message of hope is for everyone, even for non-Catholic Christians who are Yolanda victims,” said Yaokasin, a pastor of non-Catholic Christian Church.
He however expressed fear that the Pope’s message of mercy and compassion, faith and hope might soon be forgotten.
“So it is important to remind our people how blessed we are that Pope Francis visited us and that his message continue to be a source of hope and inspiration to all of us,” he advised.
Florencio stressed, “We can resonate his message of mercy and compassion by our concern to the plight of the people, thinking of them, especially the poor because no one could help them but us.”
“The words that Pope Francis has spoken will remain relevant and will never fade,” the prelate stressed.
He explained, “What he said were something that evoke human needs, human longing, while humanity exists.”
For Angelo Nikko Brosas, 4th year Theology student at SJEST, “As a super typhoon Yolanda survivor, the Pope’s visit reinvigorated and strengthened the virtue of hope in me which, in turn, I am to be a beacon of to others, my fellow survivors.”
Brosas added that the visit “challenged [him] to be more immersed with the people whom [he] serves now and will be serving in the future as priest, in line with the Pope’s call for the shepherd to smell like his sheep and just as the Pope personally came to Leyte.”
He was among the Yolanda survivor-seminarians who had a close encounter with the Supreme Pontiff during his lunch at the Archbishop’s residence in Palo last year.
Ofelia Zamora, a catechist, viewed the papal visit as an occasion for relatives to be reunited regardless of religious affiliations and for the people to change for good and embrace Catholicism again.
Holy Spirit at work
Rachel Tabudlong, a mother and church, could not forget how she was moved by the presence of the Pope right before her at the airport apron for the Holy Mass.
She disclosed, “It was such a nice feeling hearing the words of God delivered by Pope Francis that after a year of that very tragic natural disaster, here in front of me even from a distance, the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church was consoling and comforting us.”
When I heard his voice personally for the first time my whole body was trembling, as if the Holy Spirit came upon me, his visit was a life-changing occurrence in my life,” she averred.
“I really feel so blessed that there somebody who came over for us to boost our spirits after what we went through in the strong typhoon,” according to Tabudlong, who, along with her family, survived the rage of typhoon Yolanda.
Archbishop John Du, in a press conference on the night of rgw Vatican’s pronouncement of the appointment of Florencio as new bishop, said that such appointment is a gift and grace from God for the local church.
Although Florencio never had the chance to meet the Pope during his visit to the Archdiocese of Palo, he believes that appointing a new prelate from the Yolanda-stricken area is bringing into reality the expression of mercy and compassion. (Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros / CBCP News)