Fourteen months after Haiyan: the Pope visits

I was expecting Pope Francis to speak out about disasters, climate change and ecosystem degradation before the estimated 150,000 who gathered at the Tacloban airport. After all, Haiyan is the worst embodiment so far of the deadly and devastating combination of natural hazards, climate change and ecosystem degradation. And the Pope’s position on these issues is well known.

“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” Pope Francis told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements.

But the Pope, labelled an environmental radical (John Vidal, The Observer, 27 December 2014) chose not to touch on these highly politically-divisive issues. Discarding his prepared speech and speaking in his native Spanish, he said: “Some of you lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.”

Perhaps this caused a bit of disappointment among the more politically-inclined. And yet, what the Pope said could have been the most appropriate to the occasion. If you have lost a family member, your home, your livelihood, still have no roof over your head until now, and not yet gainfully employed, would you not question your personal God why you have to endure all these suffering? I believe the Pope was trying to reach out to every Haiyan victim at a very personal level. To assist a personal healing process among the physically and emotionally wounded, and to try to restore shaken faith among the faithful.

Nevertheless, in the text of his homily during the Mass at the Tacloban airport, the Pope said the victims of Haiyan were beneficiaries of the “generosity of so many people and so many small miracles of goodness.”

“But you have also seen, in the profiteering, the looting and the failed responses to this great human drama, so many tragic signs of the evil from which Christ came to save us.

“Let us pray that this, too, will lead us to greater trust in the power of God’s grace to overcome sin and selfishness. Let us pray in particular that it will make everyone more sensitive to the cry of our brothers and sisters in need. Let us pray that it will lead to a rejection of all forms of injustice and corruption, which, by stealing from the poor, poison the very roots of society.”

Pope Francis had to cut short his programme in Tacloban because of typhoon Amang (Mekkhala). If anything, this highlighted the continued vulnerability of the country to disasters and climate change.

One of the activities dropped due to the abbreviated visit was the audience with priests and nuns at the Palo Cathedral. His prepared speech included the following exhortation:

“Today, from this place which has known such profound suffering and human need, I ask that even more be done for the poor. Above all, I ask that the poor throughout this country be treated fairly – that their dignity be respected, that political and economic policies be just and inclusive, that opportunities for employment and education be developed, and that obstacles to the delivery of social services be removed. Our treatment of the poor is the criterion on which each of us will be judged (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). I ask all of you, and all responsible for the good of society, to renew your commitment to social justice and the betterment of the poor, both here and in the Philippines as a whole.”

Nothing more need be said.

PS – In the same speech prepared for priests and nuns, Pope Francis also said “Let us thank the Lord for all those who have labored in these months to clear away the rubble, to visit the sick and dying, to comfort the grieving and to bury the dead.” I’m sure “all” includes the men and women of ACCORD.

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