Tragedy during pope's Philippines visit leads to blessings

A year after fatal accident, a family remembers their daughter
Tragedy during pope's Philippines visit leads to blessings

Jun Padasas shows a photo of his daughter Kristel Mae who died during Pope Francis' visit to Tacloban in 2015. The photo he holds was taken moments before his daughter died. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)

Jun and Judy Padasas will never forget the day Pope Francis came to visit the central Philippine city of Tacloban in the middle of a storm a year ago.

As the pope was blessing thousands of teary-eyed victims of Typhoon Haiyan on Jan. 17, their 27-year-old daughter Kristel Mae, died.

Mae was waiting for the papal convoy to pass when a strong wind blew a large speaker stack on top of her, crushing her to death.

"It was an ordinary Saturday," says Jun who was watching the television coverage of the papal visit to Tacloban, hoping to see his daughter in action.

A day after Mae's death, Pope Francis addressed hundreds of thousands of young people who gathered in Manila and asked them to offer a moment's silence for Mae.

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"There is sad news today," said the pope. "I would like all of you, young like her, to pray for a moment in silence with me, and then we pray to Mama, Our Lady, in heaven," Pope Francis told the crowd.

Mae was a volunteer worker for Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian aid agency of the U.S. Catholic Church and she was in Tacloban to assist with the papal Mass. She had been working in the human resource department of a leading company before taking a leap of faith to follow her passion in serving the poor.

It was also not the first time Mae had been to Tacloban. She had visited the city on numerous occasions after super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the area, killing some 7,500 people in November 2013.


Pope Francis celebrates Mass with victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City on Jan. 17, 2015. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)


Losing their daughter

When Jun received the call informing him of his daughter’s death he was at a loss and didn't know what to do.

"It was just too much to handle. I could not bear telling my wife that our child was already gone," Jun said.

Mae's mother Judy was working in Hong Kong at the time.

After overcoming the initial shock of their daughter's death, Jun and Judy had to face the burden of funeral expenses.  

"We did not have money," Jun said. "Where and how would we bury our daughter?"

Then "miracles" happened.

Officials from the local government of Tacloban offered a place for Mae to be buried. Then church groups and voluntary organizations began offering help.

"I couldn't believe it when people came to us," Jun said. "It was as if the blessings were sent to us by Mae."

Jun felt "most blessed" when somebody called informing him that he would be meeting the pope.

"I was in high spirits. The anchor in my heart suddenly felt light," he said. Jun recalled how the pope held his hands while telling him repeatedly: "Have faith, have faith."

"It was unbelievable," says Jun.

A year after, Jun is still grateful for everything that has happened in his life since the accident.

"I know that my daughter’s death was for a reason, and whatever her mission is — is already up to the Lord," he says.


Photos of the meeting of Pope Francis and Jun Padasas after the death of his daughter Mae. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)


A year on

Mae's family and friends gathered in her memory on Jan. 16, the same day as the feast of the Santo Nino or the Child Jesus who is venerated by most Filipino families.

Jun remembers that even when Mae was already of age, she was like the child Jesus who honored his family.

Even if her mother was abroad, Mae spent a lot of time with her on the phone. While Jun seems to have overcome Mae's death, Judy continues to struggle with the loss.

"A lot of reporters have come to us asking for an interview but she politely refuses," Jun says. "It hurts her when she is reminded of what happened."

"It still hurts, but I have accepted our daughter's fate," Jun says, adding that the family is not blaming anybody for the tragedy.

Lorraine Garillo, a close friend, recalls the time Mae asked her for advice about leaving the corporate world and going full-time in volunteer work.

"I told her to consider the risks of the job as the locations are usually unsafe," said Lorraine. "She listened, but in the end she did what she really wanted."

After Mae's death, Lorraine and friends have continued, to do community work with the urban poor.

"We want to continue what Mae started as much as we can," said Lorraine.


Jun and Judy Padasas visit the grave of their daughter Kristel Mae who died during Pope Francis' visit to the city of Tacloban in 2015. (Photo by Eloisa Lopez)


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