MANILA – The visit of Pope Francis to Tacloban on Saturday was a day of firsts not only for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, but for the Pope himself.
It was the first time that a pope set foot in Tacloban, one of the areas worst-hit by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
His trip was threatened by Tropical Storm Amang, but the Pope decided to push through with his scheduled visit despite the rains and strong winds.
Upon arriving at the Tacloban airport, the Pope was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people, who wore yellow raincoats provided by the Archdiocese of Palo.
The crowd, braving the rains, formed a sea of yellow to attend the open-air Mass held in an open field near the airport and to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who himself was wearing a yellow raincoat.
“I think the visit was very dramatic in the sense that this is the first time that he celebrated (Mass) while donning a raincoat and all the people in the congregation also were in their raincoats. A wonderful sight,” Fr. Karel San Juan SJ, president of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, told ANC on Friday.
Pope Francis, in a rain poncho, leads the mass near the Tacloban airport on Saturday. Storms greeted Francis when he arrived in Tacloban to pray for the dead and comfort survivors of super typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the country's worst natural disaster. Photo by Stefano Rellandini, Reuters
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said the Pope told him that it was indeed the first time he celebrated Mass wearing a raincoat over the chastible.
“[Pope Francis] said, ‘No, this is the first time.’ It’s a historic event,” Tagle said in a press conference Saturday night.
Tacloban was placed under storm signal number 2, but this did not stop Pope Francis from celebrating mass, and giving his message to the survivors of Yolanda.
In his homily, Pope Francis said he made the decision to visit the typhoon-stricken area after seeing the devastation brought in 2013.
"When I saw from Rome the catastrophe, I felt that I had to be here…And on those very days, I decided to come here. I am here to be with you. A little bit late, but I'm here,” the Pope said.
The crowd attending the mass of Pope Francis at the open field in Tacloban airport on Saturday form a sea of yellow as they brave the rains with their raincoats. Millions are expected to attend the mass and catch a glimpse of the Pope along the route of his motorcade in Tacloban City. Photo by Joe Torres, UCAN/ABS-CBN Pool
The inclement weather made the Pope’s visit more special, as he experienced first-hand the fear and uncertainty that residents of Tacloban face.
“The Pope experiencing the instability of the climate and weather in this side of the world, directly, that is the whole point of his visit…He got a glimpse of the fear, the uncertainty of the situation," said San Juan.
Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, meanwhile, noted the “profound meaning” of the Pope celebrating mass under the rain, and attended by survivors of Typhoon Yolanda.
“This experience of celebrating Mass under the rain, with the storm, this is something that has a profound meaning in this situation because this is exactly the experience of this people now and much worse a year ago,” he said.
Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, waves to pilgrims after holding a mass at Tacloban's airport on Saturday. An emotional Francis, wearing a plastic poncho over his vestments to protect him from the wind and rain, comforted survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Photo by Damir Sagolj, Reuters
Tagle said the visit to Tacloban was also the Pope's first time to experience a tropical storm.
"On the flight back to Manila, I asked him if he was accustomed to this type of typhoons and storms. He said, 'No, I have experienced occasional rain, but this type, no.' So again, it was a first for him," said Tagle.
Although his visit to Tacloban was cut short due to the bad weather, the Pope was able to get his message across that the survivors of Tacloban, even in their most vulnerable state, are never alone.
"We have a Lord who is capable of crying with us, capable of walking with us in the most difficult moments of life,” he said.
After the mass, rain-soaked thousands received blessings from Pope Francis, who himself was drenched in rain.