TACLOBAN CITY — Pope Francis's image is all over the city. He smiles from large tarpaulins hung in front of broken churches, over gates of schools with new classrooms and outside roadside stores selling lumber.
Excitement was visible around the scarred city two days before the Pope's visit.
In the area where the 78-year-old pontiff will celebrate Holy Mass, choir singers rehearsed their songs over logistics-related instructions blaring from huge speakers.
Along the the road, police officers stood for hours under the sun in a dry run for the motorcade that will take the Pope from the venue of the mass near the airport to the neighboring town of Palo on Saturday.
“Kunting sakrispisyo lang to para sa Santo Papa (This is nothing but a small sacrifice for the Holy Father),” said PO1 Rosario Merenillo Jr., who stood by the road from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Pope, who arrived in Manila last night, will visit Tacloban and Palo to comfort and inspire survivors of Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons to hit land in recorded history.
Yolanda struck on Nov. 8, 2013, killing more than 6,000 across the Visayas, mostly in the islands of Leyte and Samar, and leaving a trail of destruction that remains visible until today.
After officiating mass before an expected 150,000 people, the Pope will have lunch at the Archbishop's Residence in Palo with selected survivors of Yolanda and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol in October 2013.
Earthquake survivors from Bohol left Tagbilaran City yesterday morning for Palo by boat.
Fr. Ariston Limocon accompanied Saturnino Barace Jr., 19; Barace Shirley Bongay, 35; Niza Flores, 53; Salome Israel, 24; and Veneranda Gentallan, 38.
The group passed by Cebu where they boarded a fast-craft to Ormoc City.From Ormoc, they proceeded to the Archbishop’s Residence in Palo and meet survivors of typhoon Yolanda who were also chosen to dine with the Pope tomorrow.
After lunch calamity survivors, the Pope will lead the blessing of the Pope Francis Center for the Poor, located near the Archbishop's Residence, and meet with priests, seminarians, pilgrims and Yolanda survivors at the Palo Cathedral before returning to Manila.
Streamers welcoming the Pope, mostly bearing his image, can be seen along the route of his motorcade from the airport to Palo, and even in downtown Tacloban, which is not included in his itinerary.
Fr. Chris Arthur Militante, information and social communication officer of the Archdiocese of Palo, yesterday called on the people to take down posters bearing the Pope's face as requested by the Vatican.
“The first statement of the Holy Father when he knew of the preparations here is, ‘Prepare not for Francis, prepare not for me. Prepare for Jesus when they come to you,’” Militante told reporters.
He said the Pope would rather see images of Jesus Christ when people welcome him.
Pope Francis is the second pope to visit the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation.
The late Pope John Paul II visited the country twice: in February 1981 for the beatification of Filipino martyr Lorenzo Ruiz and in January 1995 to mark World Youth Day. In his 1981 visit, Pope John Paul II also came to Cebu and celebrated mass at the old Lahug Airport, now Cebu IT Park.
Ira Aboy, a 39-year-old medical student, could not contain her excitement to see the Pope. She went to the venue of the mass yesterday afternoon with a classmate and took selfies in front of the templete, saying she might not get a chance in the next two days to take pictures of herself in the area.
“I won't be here for the mass because I'll be part of the human barricade along the road so I came here to take souvenir photos,” the Cagayan de Oro native told Sun.Star Cebu.
Aboy was in her boarding house in Palo when Yolanda struck, praying the rosary on the second floor as sea water inundated the ground floor.
She said she doesn't mind enduring heat or rain on Saturday to help secure the Pope and get a glimpse of him.
Merenillo said seeing the Pope will be more than enough compensation for all the hours he will stand.
“I consider myself lucky to be chosen as one of the police officers who will secure the Pope,” he said, then joked that the money he spent for whitening soaps will go down the drain because he will surely have darker skin.