Pope's envoy to spend Christmas in Leyte

u2018SOLIDARITY IN HARDSHIP.u2019 Pope Francis hugs Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle during a ceremony to bless the new image of Holy Pedro Calungsod of Philippines at St Peter's basilica on November 21, 2013 at the Vatican. Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP

u2018SOLIDARITY IN HARDSHIP.u2019 Pope Francis hugs Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle during a ceremony to bless the new image of Holy Pedro Calungsod of Philippines at St Peter's basilica on November 21, 2013 at the Vatican.

Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The ambassador of Pope Francis in the Philippines arrived in Leyte on Tuesday, December 24, to lead Christmas celebrations in the province worst hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

The apostolic nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, will lead the Christmas Eve Mass in Palo, Leyte at 10 pm on Tuesday.

The Mass will be held at the Cathedral of Our Lord's Transfiguration in Palo, according to Palo Archbishop John Du in an article on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) news service.

On Wednesday, December 25, Pinto will celebrate Christmas Mass at the Sto Niño Church in Tacloban, the city hardest hit by Yolanda, at 10 am.

Du said Pinto is “determined” to visit Leyte. “I will sleep wherever you sleep,” Pinto told the archbishop of Palo.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, for his part, said Pinto is closely monitoring relief efforts in Eastern Visayas, according to CBCP News.

Palma praised Pinto's move to spend Christmas in Leyte.

“These are some of the ways on how we can help to make people feel that they are not alone. We are willing to journey with them,” Palma said.

Embracing 'every Filipino'

Francis himself has repeatedly prayed for Yolanda survivors in the Philippines.

In November, the Pope hugged Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in a gesture of solidarity after Yolanda. (READ: Pope Francis hugs Tagle; prays for storm-hit PH.)

In a Mass in Palo that month, Tagle recounted the experience, and said he knew the Pope "was not embracing an individual person."

"Niyayakap niya ang lahat ng Pilipino, buhay at yumao," Tagle said. (He was embracing every Filipino, living or dead.)  

On Wednesday, Pinto's visit comes as Francis prays for a Christmas “of hope, justice, and fraternity.”

The Pope* drove home this point on Sunday, December 22. During the Sunday Angelus, he pointed to a banner carried by protesters in St Peter's Square.

“I see there, written in large letters, 'The poor cannot wait.' That's nice! And this makes me think that Jesus was born in a stable, not in a house. Afterwards he had to flee to Egypt to save his life. At the end, he returned to his own home, in Nazareth.”

“And I also think, today, reading this banner, of the many families who are without a home, either because they have never had one, or because they have lost it, for various reasons. Family and home go hand in hand. It is very difficult to raise a family without a home. In this Christmas period I invite all – individuals, social organizations, authorities – to do everything possible to enable every family to have a home,” Francis said.

Yolanda damaged at least 1.14 million houses in the Philippines – with at least 550,928 totally destroyed.

It killed at least 6,109 people and affected more than 16 million. Up to 5,260 or 86% of the total come from Leyte alone. – Rappler.com

*Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, we had mistakenly written 'Pinto' instead of the 'Pope.'

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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