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TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - An emotional Pope Francis, wearing a plastic poncho over his vestments to protect him from the wind and rain on Saturday, comforted survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines' worst natural disaster that killed about 6,300 people 14 months ago.
"I would like to tell you something close to my heart," Francis told worshippers as strong wind whipped the seaside area, putting aside his prepared homily to deliver a moving, impromptu address.
"When I saw from Rome that catastrophe, I felt that I had to be here. On those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you. Perhaps a little late, I have to say, but I am here," he told emotional worshippers.
About 160,000 people wearing yellow raincoats cheered when Francis emerged from his plane in the coastal city of Tacloban in Leyte province, 400 miles southeast of Manila. The strong wind blew the white skull cap from Francis' head and rippled his white cassock as he disembarked in Tacloban.
The Pope cut short his visit to Leyte by about four hours and returned to Manila before the weather worsened. He stopped for a quick lunch with Haiyan survivors but skipped a blessing of the Vatican-funded Pope Francis centre for the poor.
"The weather forecast says ... it's going to get much worse. So I apologize to you all. I'm sad about this, truly saddened," the Pope said to moans of disappointment from hundreds of priests, nuns and others at a cathedral in Palo, Leyte, which was severely damaged by Haiyan.
Thousands of worshippers, many with tears in their eyes, stood amid puddles in a mud-soaked field as the Pope comforted them during a morning Mass.
He said he "respected the feelings" of those who felt they had been let down by God because of the disaster but implored them to move forward in their faith.
"Many of you have asked the Lord, 'Why?' And to each of you the Lord is responding to your hearts from his heart ... so many of you have lost everything. I don't know what to say to you but the Lord does know what to say to you," he said.
Haiyan destroyed about 90 percent of Tacloban city in Leyte. More than 14.5 million people were affected in six regions and 44 provinces. About one million people remain homeless.
Nearly 3,000 victims are buried in the city's almost half-hectare mass grave site. Hundreds are still unaccounted for.
He asked the crowd to hold a moment of silence for the victims and thanked all those who helped the survivors of the worst recorded storm ever to make landfall.
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