MANILA, Jan. 28, 2014— Pope Francis has expressed his intention to visit the typhoon-ravaged areas in Leyte, a Vatican official said.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said the possible visit is for the pope to show consolation and spiritual closeness to the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
The church official made the announcement on Tuesday during a Mass at the La Libertad Mission Church, in Palo, Leyte, which was badly damaged by the typhoon last November 8.
The pope sent the cardinal to the Philippines to visit the areas struck by the typhoon and to extend more assistance for rehabilitation efforts.
“You go now because I might be going there also,” Cardinal Sarah quoted the pope as saying in his homily, drawing cheers and applause from the churchgoers.
“I would not tell you the date but the Holy Father has been telling me ‘I might be also going there,’” he said.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, earlier said that Pope Francis may go to Daejeon, South Korea for the Asian Youth Day this August, in what would be his first visit to Asia since he was elected pope in March last year.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics has made only one international trip so far, visiting Brazil for the World Youth Day last July, but is scheduled to visit sites in the Holy Land in May this year.
Palo Archbishop John Du, who was with the cardinal the whole day, is elated over Vatican official’s announcement.
“Of course, we are very happy. People were really clapping,” Archbishop Du said, as he asked the faithful to continue praying so that the papal visit will push through.
Cardinal Sarah went around Tacloban City and Palo town the whole day, visiting communities and led the distribution of relief goods in some badly devastated areas.
He also made a quick visit to the Sisters of Mercy Hospital, a health facility dedicated to the poor, in Tacloban City and the Sacred Heart Seminary in Palo town.
At the compound of the Archbishop’s Residence, also in Palo, Cardinal Sarah led the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed orphanage, clinic and home for the elderly.
Archbishop Du said Cor Unum, an administrative body that serves in the name of the pope for the Church’s charitable activities, would finance the construction of the facilities.
The project will also include, among other things, a small convent for the nuns who will administer the facilities, a chapel and a dispensary.
“These are really part of the Holy Father’s desire to reach out to the people especially the least who are not given much attention,” Archbishop Du said.
“I decided to have them built within the compound of my residence because I also want to live with these people,” he said.
Cardinal Sarah, 68, returned to Manila late Tuesday afternoon. He will travel onwards to Rome on Thursday, January 30.
According to recent report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the typhoon caused over 6,100 deaths, more than 28,000 injured and missing still at 1,785.
Caritas Philippines said around 3.8 million people, belonging to more than 851,000 families, were left homeless.
In total, around 12 million people suffered damage or losses of various types, in 574 towns and cities in Central Visayas.
Immediately after the onslaught of the typhoon, Pope Francis donated an initial US$150,000 in emergency aid through the Cor Unum.
Last Christmas, the pope has sent his ambassador to the Philippines, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, to Leyte to be one with the Yolanda survivors. (Roy Lagarde)