Papal visit to highlight post-Yolanda recovery efforts

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The historic visit of Pope Francis in Leyte will bring post-Yolanda rehabilitation efforts into a spotlight more than a year ago after the super typhoon ravaged Leyte province.

Tacloban Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TFFCCI) president Jack Uy said that it’s an opportunity of the world to see the progress of recovery in Tacloban and nearby Palo town.

“After the super typhoon Yolanda anniversary, there has been less media attention about post-Yolanda recovery. Now that Pope Francis is coming, the whole world will see the present condition of Tacloban and Palo,” Uy told reporters.

“Through the massive coverage of international media, the world will be able to see how their donations helped improve the post-disaster situation and things that need to be done,” he added.

Department of Trade and Industry Regional Director Cynthia R. Nierras said the papal visit that brought a million of visitors to Leyte will highlight improvement in typhoon-weary areas.

“Visitors will see new hotels, restaurants and businesses in the city that they did not see in the immediate aftermath of Yolanda,” Nierras said.

Pope Francis will visit this city and nearby Palo town for six hours to lead an outdoor mass, 12-kilometer motorcade, lunch with 30 disaster survivors, blessing of home for orphans and elderly, meet with the priest and religious and bless a mass grave. (PNA)

Volunteers’ thoughts on Pope Francis visit

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By Maria Armie Sheila B. Garde | Friday, January 16, 2015


TACLOBAN CITY – A young volunteer from a village in this city said it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t see Pope Francis up close, as what matters more is helping others see the Holy Father.

Maria Ela Balitos, 16, is a high school student from Barangay San Paglaum, a remote village in Tacloban City.

She is one of the thousands of youth volunteering as ushers and usherettes, facilitators at the catechetical sites, and in charged of security and health services, among others, for the visit of Pope Francis in Leyte on January 17.

Balitos is one of the usherettes at the Tacloban airport, where Pope Francis is expected to hold a mass on Saturday.

“Expected kami didi for 48 hours. Waray katurugay. (We are expected to volunteer for 48 hours and we don’t expect to sleep until the Pope’s visit on Saturday),” she said.

Pope Francis arrived in Manila on Thursday afternoon from his three-day visit in Sri Lanka. He will fly to Leyte on Saturday to spend time with the survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

“Gusto ko maging part hit history. Bisan diri ak makadaup kan Santo Papa, at least makabulig ako (I want to be part of history. I don’t expect to get near and see the Pope up close but at least I’m able to help.),” she said.

More than 300 choir members from different Leyte parishes also volunteered to sing at the papal mass on Saturday.

Two of them are Mary Ann Suyom, 62, the youngest among senior citizen choir members, and Sophia Cordero Bernadas, 78, the oldest among all choir volunteers.

Suyom and Bernadas, who are both survivors of Yolanda, said sharing their gift by singing for the Holy Father is their humble thanksgiving for surviving the deadliest typhoon in recent history.

Pope Francis is expected to share a meal with some of the typhoon survivors, bless the mass grave at the Palo Cathedral as well as the Center for the Poor. (Sunnex)

City rising from storm ready for Pope

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by Ador Vincent S. Mayol and Joey A. Gabieta | 2:51 AM,  Friday, January 16th, 2015


Tacloban preparations are in place as excitement, nervousness set in

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—For the past few days, Eric de Leon has been feeling butterflies in his stomach.

“I’m excited but at the same time nervous,” said De Leon, 36.

De Leon will sing the Responsorial Psalm in Waray during Pope Francis’ open-air Mass at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport here, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people and watched by millions of others on TV and the Internet.

How De Leon feels could mirror the general sentiment of people in the city that has yet to fully rise on its feet following the devastation by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

De Leon, an employee of the city government, said singing the Psalm during the Pope’s Mass would be his way of thanking God for saving him and his family at the height of Yolanda.


Local flavor

The Mass, to be held at the apron of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport here, would have a local flavor.

Waray, the Leyte dialect, would be used in parts of the Mass.

Other Yolanda survivors would have key roles during the historic Mass, according to Fr. Gilbert Urbina, chair of the commission on liturgy of the Palo Archdiocese.

One of them would be a woman, who survived Yolanda but lost 11 family members. She would read a passage in the Bible as first reading.

De Leon, a wedding singer, had been given the task of singing the Psalm’s response—your words, Lord, are spirit and life—with a 250-member choir.

Aside from Waray, parts of the Mass would be in Cebuano, Hiligaynon and English.


Full force

De Leon, a wedding singer, said being chosen to sing the Psalm was a surprise for him.

The Mass would be attended by 30 bishops and 500 priests from churches in the provinces of Samar, Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Bohol, Southern Leyte, Northern Samar, Biliran and Cebu.

“We’re ready,” said Melvin Corpin, head of the choir composed of members of smaller choirs from eight parishes in the Archdiocese of Palo.

“On a scale of one to 10, we’re 10 in terms of being prepared,” he said.

A 70-piece orchestra would accompany the choir.

The liturgical hymns are mostly in Waray because Pope Francis wanted the songs in the local dialect to be understood by a majority of those who would attend the Mass, said Corpin.

“The Pope wants the people to join in singing the songs during the Mass. He doesn’t want the choir to do it alone,” he said.

Among the songs he composed and would be used during the Mass were “Ha Imo La (Yours Alone),” “Lamrag (Light)”, “Halad Ko (My Offering)” and “An Dios Gud La (God Alone).”


P75M spent

The choir is also practicing songs in Latin like “Ave Verum Corpus” and “Panis Angelicus.” They would also sing “We Are All God’s Children,” a composition of Jamie Rivera, and “Amigo (Friend),” which Corpin said is among the Pope’s favorites.

At least 14,000 barricades that are 1.2 meters tall are now at the Mass site, which could accommodate up to 150,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of others, however, are expected to be in the Mass site’s fringes.

Rolando Asis, public works regional director for Eastern Visayas, said at least P75 million was spent on the preparations. With a report from Carine Asutilla, Inquirer Visayas

Tacloban painted white for pope

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  for The Philippine Star |


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

‘Yolanda’ survivors in Leyte cheer Pope Francis upon arrival in Manila

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by Marc Jayson Cayabyab  for | 12:15 AM, Friday, January 16th, 2015

Video by Ryan Leagogo/

Pope Francis disembarks upon arrival from Sri Lanka Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015 at suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. Pope Francis arrived for the first papal visit to the Philippines in 20 years. AP

PALO, Leyte—Bells of the Palo Cathedral pealed late Thursday afternoon as soon as Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines.

As the bells rang, survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” cheered while they watched the Pope’s arrival through a projector beside the cathedral.

Against the backdrop of the setting sun, around 100 typhoon survivors gathered around the projector showing the papal plane’s arrival at Villamor Airbase in Metro Manila at 5:32 p.m.

While there was much euphoria among the survivors, they laughed when winds blew the Supreme Pontiff’s papal skullcap as he emerged from the plane.

They again laughed as the Pope’s mantle blew over his face.

“Nakakatawa. Paglabas niya nilipad agad yung sumbrero niya,” Jean Celis said between fits of laughter.

These scenes of laughter provided reprieve to the residents of this town, which saw much destruction in the typhoon’s onslaught. Yolanda, the world’s strongest typhoon to hit land, claimed over 6,300 lives when it hit central Philippines in November 2013.

The survivors’ reactions in seeing Pope Francis on the projected screen provided a first look on the storm victims’ feelings toward the Pope, who is expected to arrive here on Jan 17.

“No words” was how Ma. Guillerma Gonzales, 67, described the feeling of seeing Pope Francis arrive.

“Parang hindi namin ma-explain. Nadala kami. We’re very happy,” the retired teacher from Palompon, Leyte, said.

Jeoff Papom, 10, was very happy he would experience seeing the Pope so early in his lifetime.

He said he wanted to show the Pope a letter he wrote which says: “Dear Pope Francis. I really want to see you personally.”

“Masayang masaya kasi nandito na siya sa Pilipinas… Nagpapasalamat ako sa kanya dahil tinulungan niya lahat ng tao dito sa Tacloban,” the 10-year-old boy said.

Pope Francis will first visit Tacloban and say Mass at the airport before proceeding to Palo to bless the Pope Francis Center. He will then to go to the Palo Cathedral to light a candle on the mass grave of those who perished when Yolanda struck.