Pope Francis in Asia
Pope Francis today begins the second stage of his visit to Asia by flying from Colombo in Sri Lanka to the Philippines capital, Manila. Among the highlights of his trip will be meetings with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, in which more than 6000 people died in November 2013. This will be on Saturday when he flies to Palo to celebrate mass in the Archdiocesan Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration.
Palo was founded by the Jesuits in 1596 and the modern Gothic cathedral was constructed by them. Within a few years, Palo had become a central missionary station, with Jesuit priests based there with jurisdiction over the missions of Dagami, Malaguicay, Malirong, and Banabon. Although the Jesuits handed over the administration of the cathedral to the Augustinians in 1768, the insignia of the Society of Jesus can still be seen in an aperture on its walls.
On 8 November 2013, the force of Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as “Yolanda”) ripped off the roof of the cathedral and the adjoining presbytery. Haiyan was the strongest typhoon on record to hit land with winds of more than 300 kilometres per hour. About 500 people safely sought refuge in the cathedral during the typhoon. Several days afterwards, a memorial service was held in the cathedral for those who had died. Bodies were buried in the cathedral grave site.
Following Typhoon Haiyan, Jesuit Missions launched an emergency appeal which raised thousands for those affected by events in the Philippines. It also provides regular support internationally for Jesuit Refugee Services.
On his arrival in Colombo on Wednesday, Pope Francis urged religious leaders to pursue a path of “healing and unity”, instead of division and conflict. He said Sri Lanka can’t fully heal from a quarter-century of ethnic civil war without pursuing truth for the injustices committed. Thousands greeted him when he arrived in the island nation, lining the route of his motorcade with troupes of decorated elephants. He celebrated Mass attended by up to a million people at which he canonised Sri Lanka's first saint, the 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz. He then prayed in Madhu in the north of the country, which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
Main photo: Elephants and Sri Lankans greet Pope Francis (PA). Right: The cathedral in Palo, devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (Niño Jesus Orbeta)