With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption. (Psalm 130:7)
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
On 17 January 2015, His Holiness Pope Francis will visit the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte to meet the survivors of supertyphoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda). As a “shepherd with the scent of the sheep,” he will come to bring to us his message of mercy and compassion and to revive our “dropping spirit” with the joy of the Gospel.
His apostolic journey will bring the pope to Tacloban City where he will celebrate the Holy Mass with pilgrims representing the various dioceses affected by the recent natural disasters. He will also visit the archdiocesan seat of Palo, Leyte where he will inaugurate the newly constructed Pope Francis Complex for the Poor that was funded by the Holy See and where there will be a meeting between the Holy Father and the clergy, consecrated persons and seminarians, to be held at the historic Cathedral of the Transfiguration.
This is a first time that a pope will visit the Archdiocese of Palo; it is truly a providential event in the life and history of the local Church. The papal visit will happen just as the archdiocese had concluded its celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the canonical erection as a diocese. Likewise, the pope himself is coming to embrace his flock as they begin to rebuild their lives, homes and communities left broken, damaged and devastated by typhoon Haiyan. His message and presence among the faithful of the archdiocese is an invitation to reflect more closely on the mercy and compassion of God and to proclaim, by our life and witness, the joy of the Gospel to the lost, the least and last.
Sacred journeys or pilgrimages have a special place in the Judeo-Christian tradition. From the Biblical patriarchs to the most recent Great Jubilee celebrated in the year 2000, journeying for a spiritual reason or traveling to a sacred destination to recall the faithfulness of God to his people.
The upcoming papal visit is primarily a spiritual pilgrimage. By coming to Tacloban and Palo, the pope himself is coming to a “spiritual sanctuary” – a place destroyed and devastated by a natural disaster of catastrophic dimensions, yet made sacred by a faith unperturbed in the most trying of conditions, the selfless charity that inspired the many hands and hearts that is making the rehabilitation happen and the fervent hope that remains unrelenting in the face of the darkest adversities.
During this event, the Christian faithful of the Archdiocese of Palo will embark on a pilgrimage to meet the pope, the vicar of Christ on earth. Led by their pastors, the faithful of the archdiocese and other dioceses will travel to Tacloban and Palo for a deeply spiritual reason – that is to have an encounter with Pope Francis. They come as pilgrims, like the sheep heeding the voice of their shepherd. Thus all the events connected with the papal visit will be consistent with the spiritual nature of a pilgrimage, a journey sustained by the Word of God and the Eucharist. Just like the Emmaus story, during the papal visit, Pope Francis, the earthly vicar of the Risen Christ, will accompany us in this journey of faith and set our hearts on fire by opening the Scriptures for us and revealing Christ in the Breaking of the Bread.
The pope’s visit will reinforce the image of the archdiocese as a pilgrim Church. This pilgrimage of faith is not limited to the days of the pope’s visit – it is a sacred journey that began when the faith was first received in our island more than four hundred years ago. This journey continued through time with the creation of the diocese of Palo seventy-five years ago. This same journey will continue on to the future, through the proclamation of the Gospel through the New Evangelization to the poor, the youth and children and to the unchurched and those who have strayed away from the Church.