The Philippine Star | Updated January 16, 2015 – 1:00am
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Hours before the scheduled arrival of Pope Francis in the country yesterday, religious groups and survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) tied thousands of white ribbons along the pontiff’s route to welcome him when he visits here tomorrow.
“We will paint the town white with ribbons to remind the public that the real purpose of Pope Francis’ visit, lest it be forgotten, is the Holy Father’s solidarity with our plight as survivors of Yolanda and other subsequent typhoon disasters,” said Efleda Bautista, convenor of the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope in Eastern Visayas.
“When Pope Francis arrives, we may not have the opportunity to raise our concerns over the continuing injustices we are experiencing under the current administration, as he will be met instead by thousands upon thousands of police, soldiers and wooden barriers,” Bautista added.
In addition to white ribbons, the group also put up creative posters on several homes and establishments bearing quotes from the pontiff’s social teachings.
“The ribbon’s white color represents purity – that of the pope, that of the truth we intend to raise and that which the Holy Father himself seeks in his journey to Typhoon Yolanda ground zero,” said Bautista.
“It also represents simplicity, as in Pope Francis’ choice to wear simple white robes instead of the lavish ones, as symbolic of his giving voice to the cry of the poor,” she added.
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The group said the activity is part of their objective to educate Eastern Visayas residents about the pontiff.
The People’s Welcome is a broad multi-sectoral network whose members include peasants, urban poor, students, professionals, artists, human rights defenders, victims of calamities and the religious.
Meanwhile, the stage where Pope Francis will celebrate a mass here is not built to withstand powerful winds, an official of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said.
DPWH Region VII director Rolando Asis told The STAR that the stage, which was still being built as of lunch time yesterday, will not be able to endure strong gusts should Tropical Storm Amang, which entered the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday, intensify into a typhoon.
“But I am sure that the organizing committee has a Plan B should the storm prevent the activity (at the airport) from pushing through,” Asis said in Filipino.
The “modest” stage is made of GI pipes from Manila and locally made sawali or bamboo mat walls, while clear plastic sheets will serve as its roof.
Construction of the stage began earlier this month at the proposed runway of the Daniel Romualdez International Airport in Tacloban City.
Asis said the stage is expected to be finished early today.
State weather forecasters said Amang could bring rains in Eastern Visayas tomorrow, in time for the pope’s visit.
Despite the forecast, Fr. Cris Militante, spokesman of the Archdiocese of Palo, said there are no changes in schedule.
“To all those who would be attending the papal activities in the Archdiocese of Palo, all systems go. The pope would proceed (to Tacloban) as stated in his itinerary. There is no change,” Fr. Militante said.
He added that changing the itinerary of Pope Francis would not be easy anyway.
“Every decision has to be a collaborative effort of the Vatican and the Philippine government because we have to consider the state of the Holy Father,” he said.
Militante, however, admitted that contingency plans have been put in place in case of bad weather and if ever Pope Francis would want to go to Cebu for the Sinulog festival.
Earlier, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the activities in Leyte would push through, rain or shine.
Roxas said it would require “extreme weather” before the pontiff would even think of canceling his scheduled activities, since it was the Yolanda devastation in Eastern Visayas that urged him to visit the country in the first place.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villages had also said that it is unlikely that the Leyte visit would be cancelled.
“If we prioritize, we could remove (Pope Francis’ visit to) Luneta and the University of Santo Tomas (UST), but not Tacloban,” Villegas said.
According to Asis, officials have decided to dig shallow canals around the stage at the Tacloban City airport to manage rainwater that would accumulate in the area in case of heavy rainfall.
“We have also dug a water impounding area,” said the DPWH official, adding that they have prepared six pumps to flush out floodwaters.
According to reports, construction of the stage was partially affected last week by heavy rains that resulted in an accumulation of floodwaters.
Asis said the canals and other contingency measures that they have placed would be able to prevent similar situations during Pope Francis’ visit tomorrow.
He added that they would start placing barricades at the center line of the papal route from the airport to Palo town in Leyte.
Those who would flock to the venue of the papal visit in Tacloban, meanwhile, are advised to bring transparent raincoats.
Fr. Al Cris Badana, relief and rehabilitation unit director of the Archdiocese of Palo, also reiterated calls by the Church to not forget the spiritual preparation that comes with the celebration.
“Aside from the physical preparations, which we and other groups are doing, let us not forget above all our spiritual preparations and obligations. The pope’s message of ‘mercy and compassion’ would only have meaning once we submit ourselves to God’s call,” Badana said.
Badana is in charge of identifying the 30 survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda and the Bohol earthquake who would be having a special luncheon with the pope at the Archbishops’ Residence in Palo town tomorrow.
He maintained that five survivors each will come from Calbayog and Borongan cities in Samar, Tanayan in Negros Oriental, Palo and Tolosa towns in Leyte and Bohol province.
During his visit to Tacloban, the pope will also bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, light a candle at a mass grave of Yolanda victims and meet with the religious before heading back to Manila on the same day. – Evelyn Macairan, Sheila Crisostomo