Tacloban (Philippines), Jan 17: Pope Francis will spend an emotional day in the Philippines on Saturday with survivors of a catastrophic super typhoon that claimed thousands of lives, highlighting his concern over climate change.
The pontiff enjoyed a rapturous reception from millions of Filipinos during the first two days of his trip to the country, reinforcing its status as the Catholic Church's bastion in Asia. Francis's five-day visit is partly aimed at helping the Church expand its influence throughout the region, but he has made clear that visiting survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan is also a top priority.
"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 Yolanda," Francis said in the nation's capital on Friday, referring to Haiyan by its local name.
Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land, left 7,350 people dead or missing in November 2013 as it devastated fishing and farming towns on central islands that were already among the Philippines' poorest.
Fifteen months later, many of those communities are still struggling to recover, with the rubble of destroyed buildings laying in piles and millions of felled coconut trees strewn across idle farmland. The pope is scheduled to celebrate mass today morning with tens of thousands of survivors on the outskirts of Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities where tsunami-like waves washed away entire villages.
"Seeing the pope would be like being face-to-face with Jesus Christ," Teresita Raza, 65, one of hundreds preparing to camp overnight to get a good spot to see him during the mass, told AFP. "His presence will be of great comfort to those affected by calamities. He will help ease their burden."
The pope will make the 90-minute flight from the national capital, Manila, into Tacloban today morning, then spend the day in the typhoon-hit areas. Intense rain is forecast to hit Tacloban today, according to the Philippine weather agency, but the pope's aides said the trip would still go ahead.
The Philippines endures an average of about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly. But the unprecedented strength of Haiyan, with winds of 315 kilometres an hour, was an extreme weather event consistent with man-made climate change, the United Nations' weather agency and scientists have said.