Pope Francis wants to eat with the poor during visit to Leyte

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol August 17,2014 - 01:37 AM

At least five Cebuanos will have the privilege of sharing a meal with Pope Francis during his visit to Leyte province next year.

They will be chosen from the poor who lost their loved ones during supertyphoon Yolanda and the Bohol earthquake, said Palo Archbishop John Du yesterday.

“He (Pope Francis) will be sitting side by side with poor people. Simple food will be served and there will be no VIPs,” said  Du who was in Cebu City yesterday to sign an agreement with SM Foundation for the construction of 400 houses for typhoon survivors in Tacloban City.

Du said the Pope sent word that he desires to share a meal with victims of last year’s calamities during his trip to Leyte on Jan. 17, 2015.

The archbishop said he will select five persons from northern Cebu, which was badly hit by the storm and five Boholanos to be among 30 individuals who will eat with the Holy Father at the Archbishop’s residence.

“Of course, there are many victims of last year’s calamities. But I would like to choose the least among them. So far, I’ve identified one person in Leyte who lost all his loved ones in the supertyphoon. He’s the only survivor. He shall stay right beside the pope to remind him that he’s not alone, that the pope may be able to comfort him,” Du said.

Pope Francis will visit the country on January 15 to 19 next year.

His trip to Leyte on Jan. 17 will include an open air Mass at the Tacloban airport and blessing  of the cathedral.

A complete itinerary will be announced later this year. So far, only Manila and Leyte are mentioned.


Cebuanos hope the Pope will also visit the Queen City of the South since his Philippine trip falls on the week of the Jan. 18 feast of the Sto. Niño but a side trip is not likely.

“Pope Francis was invited to come to Cebu but he said he’s not coming for a fiesta. The pope said that he doesn’t intend to make any side trips because the only reason he will come to the country is to be with the poor, the victims of Yolanda,” the archbishop said.

Du, a native of Bantayan, Cebu, said he too wants Francis to visit the  “cradle of Christianity in the Far East” where the icon of the Sto. Niño was introduced in 1521 as a gift of  Spanish conquistadores.

“The Sto. Niño is very significant to the whole Philippines. Well, sometimes, the Holy Father deviates from his schedule. Who knows? Maybe, there will be changes,” he said.

On Nov. 8, 2013, supertyphoon Yolanda devastated the eastern seaboard of the Visayas  leaving some 6,300 people dead while 1,060 more are listed missing. The supertyphoon also damaged properties and public structures amounting to more than P25 billion.

Although northern Cebu was affected, Tacloban City was one of the hardest hit areas.

The Archdiocese of Palo, which covers  the entire island of Leyte, is busy preparing for the papal visit which will last six hours and a half.

Du said Pope Francis, in a message, instructed him to keep arrangements simple.

“The pope said ‘give me time to be with the poor.’ If possible, he wants to stay away from the big people around, the VIPs. He’s telling the rich people that ‘if they want, they could assist me’ (in serving the poor).  The pope said the rich better help poor people,” Du said.

“I appeal to VIPs not to take center stage. Please give way to the poor for they are the main reason the pope will come,” he added.

After celebrating a 10 a.m. Mass  at the Tacloban City airport, the Pope will go to the archbishops’ residence for a meal with the poor.

He will also bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, a project financed by the Vatican for the care of the elderly, orphans, and less privileged.

The Pope will then proceed to the Palo Metropolitan Cathedral to address members of the clergy and religious congregations. He will bless the newly-refurbished cathedral which was ruined during supertyphoon Yolanda last Nov. 8, 2013.

Right after the event,  the pope will return to Manila before sundown since the local airport is not equipped for a night flight back to the capital, Du said.

Roads are being widened along an 11-kilometer route for the papal visit from the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport up to the neighboring town of Palo, the seat of the archdiocese.

“There are no special preparations. Everything should be simple,” Du said.

He said the archdiocese will set up a templete or altar where the Mass will be held at the airport.

“We’re 70 percent ready in terms of physical preparations for the pope visit although Leyte is not yet totally rehabilitated. On the spiritual aspect, we’re preparing our people to develop the idea of mercy and compassion which is the theme of Pope Francis’ papacy,” Du said.

Du said he has to be ready in case the pope pulls a surprise and makes spontaneous contact with the people.

“He’s even planning to visit the slum areas and those who are homeless until now. His representatives told me that if the Holy Father will go down from the pope mobile, I simply have to accompany him,” Du said.

While many want to see the pope in person, Du said Leyte would want to minimize guests and visitors from neighboring regions as much as possible.

“We actually don’t have enough accommodations or hotels where visitors could stay. Going to Leyte takes time and the Holy Father will only be there for six and a half hours,” the archbishop said.

Executives of SM Foundation, through its SM Cares Housing Project for the Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines), yesterday signed a memorandum of agreement with the archdiocese of Palo.

The local church provided a 7-hectare lot where 400 houses will be built.

SM Foundation is also building houses for typhoon Yolanda victims in Bogo City in northern Cebu,  Ilo-ilo, and Ormoc City.

“This is a happy occasion for us. This will mean change of lives for 400 families (at least 2,000 individuals),  new hope for them,” said Carmen Linda M. Atayde, SM Foundation senior assistant vice president and executive director for education.


Related Stories:

Palma welcomes Pope Francis visit next year

Pope to visit PH in January 2015

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