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    Pope Francis smiles as he waves to residents during a motorcade in Tacloban city, after holding a mass near the airport, January 17, 2015

    Pope Francis Holds Holy Mass in Philippine City Destroyed by Typhoon

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    Pope Francis made a visit to the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban on the Philippine island of Leyte Friday, holding a vigil for the thousands killed and millions displaced in a deadly storm last year.

    MOSCOW, January 17 (Sputnik) — A crowd of about 150,000 Catholics gathered in the city of Tacloban on the Philippine island of Leyte on Friday for an open air mass with Pope Francis, the Associated Press reported.

    Rain-drenched worshipers stood in the rain and wind-swept field near the airport for hours waiting to hear the pontiff's prayer. The pope arrived in the city to conduct a vigil to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippine Islands in November 2013, leaving over 7,300 dead or missing and displacing over 4 million others. Over 90 percent of the city of Tacloban was destroyed in the storm.

    "I'm a little late [but] I made it," the Pope told gatherers following his arrival. "In a particular way, this visit is meant to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who endured the suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon [Haiyan]." The pontiff praised the "heroic strength, faith and resilience" shown by the island's residents.

    "Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart," he noted.
    The crowd had jubilantly welcomed the pope, hanging banners in his honor and cheering when his plane landed, welcoming him to the stage by clapping in unison to blaring loudspeaker music, AP noted. The pope wore a translucent raincoat over his papal vestments, blowing kisses, waving and giving thumbs up to the crowd as he drove to the stage in his Volkswagen popemobile.

    A local man, Ernesto Hengzon, told AP that the pope "cannot give us houses and jobs, but he can send our prayers to God." Joan Cator, weeping as she spoke, said she hoped that "the pope can help us forget and help us accept that our loved ones are gone."

    The Pope was forced to cut his visit short as Typhoon Mekkhala headed toward the island. "I apologize to you all," he told worshipers, adding "I am truly sad about this, truly sad, because I had something prepared especially for you," he said, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying. The crowd is said to have taken the news in a good-humored way.

    The pope had been set to spend the entire day on the island, visiting with families who had suffered loss, before the bad weather forced him to leave early. The BBC reported that the storm intensified as the pope left, resulting in a plane carrying government officials to overshoot the runway at Tacloban airport. No injuries were reported.

    Pope Francis and His Flyaway Vestments
    © Fotobank.ru/Getty Images / Franco Origlia
    The Pope flew to Tacloban after a gathering in Manila with believers, where he spoke on family issues and contraception, and made comments on government corruption and social inequality which have since been criticized by the country's president, Benigno Aquino. The pontiff had demanded that "political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good," adding that the government must do more to end "scandalous social inequalities." Aquino has since responded that his administration was trying to rectify the abuses of the previous administration.

    The Philippines, a country of over 98 million people, is estimated to have about 75 million Catholics, six million of whom are expected to come out for Sunday's mass in a waterfront park in Manila. 50,000 police, security and volunteers have organized to protect the Pope amid fears of radical Islamist terrorism. In 1995, Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists had hatched a plot to assassinate John Paul II in Manila. The plot was foiled just days before his arrival. "I am in God's hands," the 78-year-old pontiff said with regard to his safety.


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