WEATHER forecasters were certain that tropical storm Amang was going to barrel through the islands of Samar and Leyte with maximum sustained winds of 100 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 130 kps. But Pope Francis was determined. As scheduled, he had to proceed to Tacloban, the ground zero of super storm Yolanda that left over 6,000 dead and 4.1 million homeless on November 8, 2013.
“I’d like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw this catastrophe (Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan) from Rome, I felt that I had to be here,” he told hundreds of thousands pilgrims that waited for his mass for many hours under the rain. “And so those very days, I decided to come here. I am here to be with you. A little bit late, I have to say, but I am here.”
The millions of Yolanda victims were searching for answers, for meaning. Just like Glyzelle Palomar who used to live on the streets until rescued by Tulay Ng Kabataan Foundation. In the encounter with the Youth at the University of Santo Tomas, she broke into tears while addressing the Holy Father, “I now want to ask you these questions: there are many children neglected by their own parents. There are also many who became victims and many terrible things happened to them like drugs or prostitution. Why is God allowing such things to happen, even if it is not the fault of the children? And why are there only very few people helping us?”
In the midst of the storm, the Holy Father proclaimed to them the kerygma. “I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord that he never lets us down. ‘Father,’ you might say to me, ‘I was let down because I’ve lost so many things, I lost my house, my livelihood, my family. I’ve illness.’ It’s true if you would say that. And I respect those sentiments. But Jesus there nailed to the cross. And from there, he does not let us down…That is why we have a Lord who is capable of crying with us, capable of walking with us in the most difficult moments of life. So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence. And I walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord, ‘Why Lord?’ And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds from his heart upon the cross. I have no more words to tell you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. And he understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you have experienced.”
In Tacloban, Pope Francis did away with his prepared homily. He spoke from his heart filled with the Spirit. He did not assure them of rehabilitation efforts or anything structural. He proclaimed to them the Good News that can only be well understood in the midst of the storm—almost on the same breath of what he told the clergy and the religious at the Manila Cathedral, “The poor are at the center of the Gospel, at the heart of the Gospel. If we take away the poor from the Gospel, we cannot understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.”