Storm orphans to politicians: Lunch with Pope Francis is ours
PALO, Leyte—On Christmas Day, three orphans who lost their families to Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) came out to say that the poor like them should have the chance to eat lunch with Pope Francis, not politicians.
“It is not right!” 13-year-old John Paul Madrigal said in Waray when told that four politicians—Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla, his son and Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and his cousin, Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez—might join the lunch on Jan. 17, together with 30 storm victims and survivors of the 2013 earthquake in Bohol province.
Analysts say the four politicians may have leaked out the story to check public reaction to their being included among the people who will lunch with the Pope.
“I know that Pope Francis is coming for us, not them,” said Michael Andre Sison, another orphan who has been interviewed by Church officials as a possible guest at the papal lunch.
The Archdiocese of Palo immediately quashed the idea of the Petillas and the Romualdezes joining the group.
“There are no politicians who will be dining with Pope Francis during his visit here,” Fr. Amadeo Alvero, communications director of the archdiocese, said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Formerly allies, the Petillas turned against their former benefactors, the Romualdezes, when the Petillas embraced the administration of then President Cory Aquino and succeeding administrations, including the present one.
The four local political leaders representing the two feuding families have been tasked by the clergy with meeting the Pope when he arrives on Jan. 17 at Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City.
According to Alvero, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Palo Archbishop John Du are the only Church officials who will eat with the Pope, together with the 30 calamity victims.
The Archdiocese of Palo has not identified the 30 people who will dine with Francis, whose concern for the poor is well known.
Madrigal, Sison and a third orphan, Anchel Chuca, whose parents and siblings died during Yolanda, said they decided to speak out because they feared that the Petillas and the Romualdezes—the two families who have dominated Leyte’s politics for nearly half a century—would use their influence to make it to the list of the Pope’s luncheon guests.
“They are that powerful,” said Chuca, who lost his father Ruthchel and mother Anabel to storm surges in Barangay Salvacion in this town on Nov. 8 last year.
Chuca said no Church officials had approached her about whether she would be considered for one of the 30 seats at Gonzagahaus, the official residence of the Archbishop of Palo and site of the luncheon.
“I hope they will pick me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” said the freshman student of hotel and restaurant management at Far Eastern University.
Story for the Pope
Although still staying with relatives, Chuca was adopted by Alice and Precious Andam, two US-based Filipino-Americans originally from Davao. They are paying for her education.
Holding a trinket with an image of Francis, Madrigal—named after Pope St. John Paul II—said he, too, had not been interviewed nor approached by Church officials.
Asked what he will tell Francis if he is chosen, he said: “I will tell him my story, how I lost my family and how I survived Yolanda.”
The boy’s father Elmer, mother Racquel and two brothers— Adam Patrick, 12, and Kenneth Rey, 5—died during the typhoon.
Dream come true
Madrigal is a sophomore student at San Joaquin High School. His school expenses are being paid for by SOS Children’s Villages, an international private relief organization helping orphans around the world to get an education.
He said it would be a dream come true if he met the Pope. “I will be very happy if that happens,” he said.
The 17-year-old Sison rejected early this year an offer to study in the United States courtesy of a group of Catholic nuns based in Baltimore, Maryland.
“My home is here. I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Sison said.
Like Madrigal, Sison, a college freshman studying business administration in Tacloban, has also been adopted by SOS Children’s Villages International.
Sison’s father, Marius Andre, 58, a retired firefighter, mother Musa, 56, elder sister Lovely Joy, 18, and elder brother Mark Andre, 17, all drowned in storm surges that destroyed their house.
Catholic Relief Services helped Sison build a small house near where he lost his family so he could stay close to his relatives.
Sison is hopeful that he will be one of the 30 who will lunch with the Pope.
“It would be like meeting Jesus Christ,” Sison said.
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