Pope visits typhoon-hit in Philippines

Pope Francis has held an open-air Mass in the Philippine city of Tacloban, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just over a year ago.

Tens of thousands of people braved pouring rain and strong winds to attend the Mass.

The Pope said as soon as he saw the catastrophe caused by the typhoon, he had decided he would go to the Philippines.

After the Mass, he will meet survivors of the typhoon.

The Pope is visiting the Philippines, where there are 80 million Catholics, as part of a six-day tour of Asia.

The typhoon, which remains the strongest storm ever recorded on land, created a 7m (23ft) high storm surge, destroying practically everything in its path when it swept ashore on 8 November 2013.

Around 90% of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province was destroyed and more than 14.5 million people were affected in six regions and 44 provinces. About one million people remain homeless.

Pope Francis will have lunch with survivors of the disaster when he travels to the nearby town of Palo later on Saturday.

Saying Mass in Spanish, with a translation into English, the Pope spoke of the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan on people in Tacloban.

He told the faithful that “so many of you in Tacloban have lost everything. I don’t know what to say – but the Lord does… He underwent so many of the trials that you do”.

There was silence as the many thousands here in the deeply Catholic Philippines bowed their heads in prayer, the only noise the rain splashing onto the muddy ground beneath, reports the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt.

Corruption issues

Speaking at a welcoming ceremony when he arrived in the Philippines capital Manila on Friday, Pope Francis said he admired the “heroic strength, faith and resilience” shown by the country after the typhoon.

He also called on the country’s leaders to end the “scandalous social inequalities” and corruption in the Philippines.

He said it was a Christian duty to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities”.

The Philippines, like many countries in Asia, has corruption issues.

Corruption activist group Transparency International put the Philippines at 85 in its latest Corruption Perceptions Index, level with India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

But President Benigno Aquino countered by accusing many Catholic clergy of remaining silent about abuses conducted under former President Gloria Arroyo.

A national holiday has been declared in the capital for the duration of the Pope’s visit.

Security is very tight, with tens of thousands of soldiers and police deployed, after failed attempts to kill two previous popes in the Philippines.

The centrepiece of his visit will be an open-air Mass in Manila on Sunday, which is expected to attract millions.