MY wife and I watched every moment of Pope Francis’ trip to Leyte, as provided by cable telecasts, for which we are grateful. We placed ourselves in every scene, just as one does (following the advise of St. Josemaria Escriva) when contemplatively reading the Gospels. Be as if you were another, a minor, character in the scene.
My wife reminded me that the televised Mass at the Tacloban airport was a perfectly valid one for us—except that ours would have to be a Spiritual Communion and not a physical one. But it turned out that all of the (I think) three to five thousand faithful in the quadrants also ended up only having Holy Communion Spiritually because Our Lord’s body in the consecrated host was not distributed. The steady rain and the storm winds made it impossible.
We wept and laughed, just as many of the faithful who were there must have. I was glad that I could understand the Waray songs and prayers of the faithful, felt a pang of regret that I was only now realizing how very similar Cebuano and Waray are. It cheered me that the locally composed liturgical hymns were more melodious and more appropriately liturgical than many of those that are played at Mass in Metro Manila churches.
I cried when I watched the faces of the people—lay men and women, nuns and priests—who I could see really love Pope Francis, and therefore the Church, and were being moved by his consoling words and exhortations. It gave me a lump in my throat to think that some of the drenched faithful would fall ill—and some might even die.
As scheduled, Pope Francis blessed the crowds along the route from Tacloban to the adjacent town of Palo. There he had his intimate lunch with the 30 representative calamity survivors at the Archbishop’s Residence. The lunch was a closed door event.
Then he went, without alighting from the popemobile, to bless the brand new humanitarian center that was named after him, the Pope Francis Center for the Poor.
From there he motored quickly to the Palo Cathedral.
In the Palo Cathedral, we also had moments of tearfulness and joy. The enthusiasm of the faithful made me feel a surge of hopefulness that God will—not would— soon raise us ordinary, middle-class and poor Filipinos from our prostrate condition.
Sad news announced
On entering the Palo Cathedral he headed straight to the front of the altar. He motioned for everybody to settle down. Then smiling his warm and beatific smile he announced the terrible news to the assembled faithful (and even the TV anchors and us the TV audience) that his time with them, the people of Tacloban would have to be suddenly cut short.
Storm Amang at Signal No. 1 would soon get stronger. The PAL pilot wanted the Pope and his party to fly out of the city by 1 o’clock—35 minutes away.
I saw a nun who could have been an aunt on my father’s side, and a man who looked so much like my father 30 years ago. Their faces registered a moment of shock and then broke into serene smiles, as the Pope spoke of leaving everything to God and His Mother Mary.
I cried when I imagined that the nun’s cheeks would later be wet with tears.
He asked everyone to pray a quiet Hail Mary with him. The people gave him a sculpture of Our Lady the Immaculate Conception, made from wood from the debris of the Cathedral by that was partly damaged by Yolanda. He, in turn, gave the people of Polo a mosaic of Our Lady of the People.
Pope Francis’ trip to Leyte was a success—despite it being abridged by four hours.
While summing up all my thoughts and feelings about the Holy Father’s Leyte trip, I got suddenly reminded of Robert Frost’s short verse:
“Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.”
It’s a great little poem—that can take away any pain from one’s heart for some moments. Just as the smile that radiates from Pope Francis’ face does to a faithful Catholic.
But it’s not the kind of thinking a faithful Catholic should have. Frost was not a Catholic. His forebears were Puritan. He called himself an “Old Testament Christian.” Biographers say he was always anxious about
God’s mercy because He is also justice so that he was always afraid deep in his heart.
A Catholic would lose his anxieties after a thorough examination of conscience, resolving to not sin again, and making one or several very good confessions.
* * *
Here are some excerpts from the translation of the Holy Father’s homily in the Mass at Tacloban airport.
We have a high priest who is capable of symphatizing with our weaknesses but one who is similarly been tested in every way yet without sin. Jesus is like us. Jesus lived like us. Jesus is the same with us in every respect except sin. Because Jesus was not a sinner.
But to be more like us, He assumed our condition and our sin. He made himself unto sin. This is what Saint Paul tells us. Jesus always goes before us. And when we pass and experience a cross, He passed there before us.
And if today we find ourselves 14 months after, 14 months precisely after the typhoon Yolanda hit, it is because we have the security of knowing that we are not going to weaken in our faith, because Jesus has been there before us. In His passion, He assumed all our pain.
I’d like to tell you something close to my heart.
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, I have to say, but I am here.
I come to tell you that Jesus is Lord and He never lets us down.
Father, you might say to me, I was let down because I have lost so many things, my house, my livelihood. It’s true, if you would say that, and I respect those sentiments, but Jesus there (pointing to the cross), nailed to the cross, and from there, He does not let us down.
He was consecrated as Lord, on that throne and there He experienced all calamities that we experienced. Jesus is Lord and the Lord from the cross is there for you.
* * *
I have no more words to tell you, let us look to Christ, He is the Lord. He understands us because He underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced. And beside the cross was His mother. We are like this little child, just there.
In the moments when we have so much pain, when we no longer understand anything, all we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly. And say, Mom, as a child does to a mother, when he or she feels fear.
It is perhaps the only word we can say in such difficult times, Mother, Mom.
Let us know that we have Mother Mary and our great brother Jesus, we are not alone. We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help you, and we too, because of this we feel more brothers and sisters, because we helped each other.
This is what comes from my heart and forgive me if I have no other words to express this: But please know, Jesus never lets you down. Please know that the love and tenderness of Mother Mary never lets you down.