Pope's silent solidarity with the Philippines

Tears mingled with heavy rain as Pope Francis met survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. As they recounted their stories of the devastation which claimed almost 7,000 lives in November 2013, he shook his head and shared their suffering in silence.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle broke down in tears as he asked the Pope whether he wanted to say a few words to them. “You could see the Holy Father shaking his head … and at some moments saying ‘Oh, oh!’ He was suffering,” said the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila who was accompanying Francis. “I thought he would say the central message of his homily [to the survivors], but before these 30 persons, he himself was reduced to silence … ‘What can we say?’ he said … The communion and solidarity that happens in silence.”

Emotional

The Pope’s eight-hour visit to Tacloban was halved because of an approaching storm, but he insisted on celebrating an emotional, abbreviated Mass with local people. Afterwards, he had a brief lunch with survivors who had lost family members when the typhoon levelled entire villages and left more than four million people homeless in 2013. As is his custom, he deviated from his prepared text and spoke in his native Spanish. “So many of you have lost everything,” Francis said. “I don’t know what to say to you, but the Lord does know what to say to you … All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.”

When local authorities in the Philippines suggested cancelling the Pope’s visit to Tacloban or moving it indoors, his spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said the Holy Father had insisted it go ahead. “Where are the people?” he asked. “The people are on the ground, they’re out. We have to be with them and celebrate with them.”

Testimonies

An estimated four million people attended Pope Francis’ final Mass in Manila, although some commentators have suggested it might have been closer to six million – the largest gathering in history. Donning a yellow poncho as protection against the rain – a familiar sight during his four-day visit to the Philippines - he urged the people to encourage their children to be missionaries of the faith. “We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected,” he said in his homily. “And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”Pope at Manila University

Earlier at Manila University, Pope Francis had again been close to tears as he listened to the testimonies of two rescued street children. “Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children?” 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar asked him. “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question,” the Pope replied, adding: “There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”

Main photo: Pope Francis greets a cheering crowd as he arrives for a Mass at Rizal Park, in Manila, Philippines, 18 January 2015. (AP / L'Osservatore Romano, Pool)

Right: Pope Francis embraces two children during his visit to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)