The shephered in the storm
Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros (The Freeman) - January 16, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines – It’s been a year since Pope Francis came to Tacloban after the city was wrecked by super typhoon Yolanda. The memories are surely still fresh that the Pope came in the midst of typhoon Amang. But do people still remembers the message of the Pope’s visit?

Tacloban City Vice Mayor Jerry “Sambo” Yaokasin was among the hundred thousand persons who braved the storm to attend the mass of Pope Francis at the apron of DZR Airport on January 17 last year.

The rest of the faithful and well-wishers were spread to the other places in the Pope’s itinerary  – at the Palo Cathedral, at Archbishop’s Palace in Bukid Tabor in Palo for his lunch with “carefully selected” victims of typhoon Yolanda, and at the blessing of the new Pope Francis Center.

“This once-in-a-lifetime historic event is worth remembering regardless of religion,” Yaokasin said. “His [Pope Francis] message of hope is for everyone, even for non-Catholic Christians who are Yolanda victims.” Yaokasin is a pastor of a non-Catholic Christian Church,

He, however, expressed fear that the Pope’s message of mercy and compassion, faith and hope, might soon be forgotten. “So it is important to remind our people how blessed we are that Pope Francis visited us and that his message continues to be a source of hope and inspiration to all of us.”

Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio, who at the time of the papal visit, was a rector of the St. John the Evangelist School of Theology (SJEST) in Palo and vice chairperson of the archdiocesan papal visit secretariat, also pointed out that the message of the Pope’s visit should always be remembered.

He encouraged the people in the Archdiocese of Palo to “get among ourselves and collaborate efforts so that we will not forget the essence of the visit of the Holy Father.” He urged, “The people, especially of Tacloban, should always remember that the Pope visited the victims Yolanda and risked the danger posed by the typhoon at the time.”

Reminiscing, Bishop Florencio said, “It was the first time that the Pope said a mass in a raincoat, and Pope Francis stood up to the danger of the typhoon just to fulfill his promise to be with the victims of super typhoon Yolanda.”

“We could see so much of the humanity of the Holy Father in his visit, we could sense the greater importance of reality over ideas or the abstract,” the bishop added, stressing, “We can resonate his message of mercy and compassion by our concern to the plight of the people, thinking of them, especially the poor, because no one else could help them but us.”

“The words that Pope Francis has spoken will remain relevant and will never fade.” The prelate explained, “What he said were something that evoke human needs, human longing, while humanity exists.”

Tight security measures, inconvenience due to road traffic regulations and the threat of Typhoon Amang on January 17 last year never deterred the people from different places in Eastern Visayas from flocking where the Pope was scheduled to be.

A year after, the Catholic faithful in Tacloban continue to reminisce their encounter with the Pope or at least what they have gone through in an effort to personally view the countenance of St. Peter’s successor.

Angelo Nikko Brosas, fourth-year Theology student at SJEST, reflected, “As a super typhoon Yolanda survivor, the Pope’s visit reinvigorated and strengthened the virtue of hope in me. In turn, I am to be a beacon of to others, my fellow survivors.” He added that the visit “challenged me to be more immersed with the people whom I serve now and will be serving in the future as priest, in line with the Pope’s call for the shepherd to smell like his sheep and just as the Pope personally came to Leyte.”

Brosas was among the Yolanda survivor-seminarians who had a close encounter with the Supreme Pontiff during his lunch at the Archbishop’s residence in Palo last year.

Corazon Elvina, a church volunteer at the St. Michael the Archangel Chapel located at the foot of Bukid Tabor, felt so blessed by the coming of Pope Francis. “The Pope’s visit was so meaningful especially for the residents of Barangay Arado, where the Pope Francis Center and the chapel have been constructed. Our faith is reinforced thru the daily dawn procession – aurora – being held here,” she said.

A celebration is to be held today, January 17, the anniversary of the Pope’s visit, according to Elvina.

Ofelia Zamora, a catechist, viewed the papal visit as occasion for relatives to be reunited regardless of religious affiliations and for the people to change for good and embrace Catholicism again.

Rachel Tabudlong-Catindoy, a mother and churchgoer, could not forget how she was moved by the presence of the Pope right before her at the airport apron during the Holy Mass. She recalled, “It was such a nice feeling hearing the words of God delivered by Pope Francis that after a year of that very tragic natural disaster, here in front of me even from a distance, the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church was consoling and comforting us.”

“When I heard his voice personally for the first time my whole body was trembling, as if the Holy Spirit came upon me, his visit was a life changing occurrence in my life,” Catindoy said. “I really feel so blessed that that there was somebody who came over for us to boost our spirit after what we went through in the strong typhoon.” Catindoy, along with her family, had survived the rage of typhoon Yolanda.

The Pope’s visit has not just created positive impact in the lives and spirituality of those who believed the power of prayer. Mercy and compassion was largely felt by the people in the archdiocese of Palo by the appointment of one of her local clerics as bishop. Archbishop John Du, in a press conference on the night of Vatican’s pronouncement of the appointment of Florencio as new bishop, said that such appointment is a gift and grace from God for the local church.

Although Bishop Florencio never had the chance to meet the Pope during his visit in the Archdiocese of Palo, he believes that appointing a new prelate from the Yolanda-stricken area is bringing into reality the expression of mercy and compassion.

There are hundreds of thousands accounts on the historic visit of Pope Francis to Tacloban, as many as the number of those who took part and found their way to view the Pope in person.

Like when I myself saw in person St. John Paul II, when he was yet the Pope, during his visit to Manila in1981, a great change took place in me. These changes translated into what I now call a media apostolate for Christ.

My sight of the Pope then was from afar, but I could not forget how it caused my tears to fall, like – as depicted in movies – when people cried upon seeing the countenance of Christ. I felt like the Holy Spirit embraced me.

Pope Francis, in one of his talks during Manila leg of his visit last year, exhorted the youth, “Be courageous. Do not be afraid to cry. You cannot be good Christians if you do learn how to cry.”

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