Along with its people, Philippine Church is still recovering from typhoon Haiyan
"The storm was a great equalizer. Here there are no more rich people and no more poor. Everyone is now the same."
THE LANDSCAPE of Tacloban city on Leyte Island, Philippines, still displays the grim evidence of the biggest calamity to befall this island nation in recent history. On Nov. 8, 2013, super typhoon Haiyan pummelled this coastal city and other parts of the island with winds of up to 200 miles per hour. A strong and sudden surge also swept in from the bay, drowning numerous people and destroying. Every survivor of the massive storm has a harrowing story to tell.
Msgr. Benedicto Catilog, a professor at St. John the Evangelist School of Theology, is one of them. “During the surge we sought refuge in the cubicles of the seminarians,” he recounts; “but the water rushed in so fast.” Two priests and 37 seminarians were afraid for their lives as the building was flooded. The water rose very suddenly and reached almost up to the ceiling. Those trapped inside had to climb up the wall just to put their heads above water and get air.
Almost all of the church properties in the Archdiocese of Palo were damaged or destroyed by the typhoon. Despite being located on high ground, the convent of the Franciscan Handmaids of the Lord was annihilated by the extreme winds. Sister Joanne Tambis thought it was the end: “It was really frightening. The wind was so strong. The color of the sky was almost black. We heard the sound of the roofing being pulled and ripped out and thrown away. It was the first time we experienced that kind of typhoon.”
The survivors are slowly recovering. The resilience they exhibit is remarkable considering their enormous losses. Many give credit to their faith and the Church which guides them. Bishop Barrete Varquez, who heads the Diocese of Borongan, said that “our churches are a symbol of hope to the people, because people have a strong faith in God and they trust God so much. If we are able to rebuild our churches we are bringing hope to the people. They have the time to pray and to celebrate the sacraments. That's why it's very important for us to fully rebuild and repair our damaged churches.”
Many people lost everything in the typhoon, as countless homes and rice fields were destroyed. As Father Edwin Pontejos, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Palo, said that the victims found solace in the life of the church: “Right after the typhoon, we gathered together here for our Sunday celebration. As pastor, I am asking my parishioners to continue to pray and put our trust in God,” he said.
As night descends in Tacloban, the parish grounds of Saint Joaquin still fill up with mourners. But their grief is a weight they need not carry alone. Father Kelvin Apurillo tells how, whenever the weather allows it, people come to the church to light candles and pray. “The only thing that was left after the typhoon was the church, God and our faith. Nothing more,” he asserts, adding that “the storm was a great equalizer. Here there are no more rich people and no more poor. Everyone is now the same, including the clergy, who lined up for relief supplies along with the faithful.”
ACN photo: destruction in Palo