How did you begin Advent 2013?
I had plans – books to read, daily practices, some prayers and little ways to make the waiting for Christmas more meaningful, etc. Well, God had other plans. Just as we don’t know when a new leaf will come, turn its color or fall off the branch, so we do not know what He has in store for us every single day.
On the first day of Advent, I was on Italian TV in the religious program A sua immagine, In His Image, being interviewed, via Skype, about typhoon Yolanda and how it affected our community in Tacloban and the rest of the country. What a privilege to speak for my sisters and for our Filipino people!
The interview was short because there was not enough time, and the connection was fluctuating. I wish I knew Italian better and expressed our gratitude to the whole world for the tremendous support and solidarity. Here’s the link to the news article (in English) on the FSP International website and the video on RAI TV.
Since the interview is in Italian I thought you might want to know the questions they raised and my responses. Here goes:
HOW ARE YOU LIVING AT THIS TRAGIC MOMENT?
We Filipinos are a people who know and understand suffering, and we know joy. As Father Horacio dela Costa, a Filipino Jesuit wrote, we have two jewels: our faith and our music. We know that no suffering is permanent, and we raise this up to God who is a compassionate Father. Because of this we can smile and sing whatever the circumstance.
Many of the survivors we had the privilege to meet said over and over again, “Thank you, Sister! Thank God!” they are grateful to be alive, to be the recipient of such care, concern and love from all over the world.
In these times it is moving to see the spirit of Bayanihan come alive. It is a term that does not translate into any other language. It means carrying the crosses each other, helping one another, serving those who are in needs. It is not something you learn in school. It is a way of life, a natural characteristic that is incorporated into the DNA of every Filipino:
- You must have heard of the prisoners who have chosen to go without a meal for three days so that the money can go as food for the survivors.
- Or the child beggars who gathered the alms they received to share with the people of Tacloban.
- Or the old lady who, having only half a packet of milk powder, gave this as her contribution knowing that infants and children would need it.
- Or a religious community who chose to forego the small Christmas gifts they receive so that they can be given to those who need it most.
These are but few examples of how Filipinos are living through this catastrophe. In the midst of destruction, devastation and death, Filipinos live their faith, in joy and in love expressed in service to others.
Part of the book center. Notice the Bibles that were supposed to be distributed to the families as part of our Jubilee Project “Biblia sa Bawat Pamilya”
WHAT DAMAGES DID YOU SUFFER?
We have a small community of 4 sisters in Tacloban. All contents of the book and media were damaged. And we really feel so sorry because the Bibles that were supposed to be distributed to the poor were all reduced to pulp. And then all the equipment for the radio and TV apostolate were rendered unusable. Part of the roof of the convent was blown away, and for now, the house is not livable. The three sisters who were traumatized by this catastrophe are now in Manila for recuperate but they want to go right back to the people.
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN TO ACCOMMODATE PEOPLE? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT IT?
We did not host people because we do not have the possibility; our house is small. Instead we welcomed our lay employees who have lost their homes. They are still there now.
HOW DID YOU ORGANIZE YOURSELVES? HOW DID YOU EAT, SLEEP, WASH, ETC…?
Before the super typhoon, a benefactor sent us a 50 kilo bag of rice. We also bought some things more, thinking that the typhoon will last 3-5 days. On the second day, SSP and diocesan seminarians coming from Samar brought us water and food. All these we shared with other hungry families. We also distributed the candles from the bookstore because there was no electricity until now.
There was also a papaya tree that fell on the roof, so we picked both the green fruit for vegetables and the ripe ones for fruit. We also gathered the leaves of the malunggay/moringa tree from the garden to make a bit of soup.
For washing, we gathered rainwater, because it was always raining. And then they found an artesian well nearby but there was a mile of people lined up to fetch water.
There was only a small place in the house where it is not leaking, and this is where the sisters found shelter.
When the food was almost consumed, the heavenly Father provided for our needs. We received food and water from our friends, relatives of our sisters, the Pauline Cooperators and the priests who are our neighbors also came came to visit us.
All the equipment for the radio and TV apostolate were submerged in sea water and mud.
WHAT ASSISTANCE HAVE YOU RECEIVED?
Thanks to the Holy Father and to all of you for your prayers and solicitude. Thank you for the prayers that sustained us and for the help of all our Pauline Sisters throughout the world, particularly the General Government.
Many generous people brought relief goods to us and requested that we channel these to the survivors. We too renounced whatever we can to contribute money, clothes,etc. everything that may be of help to our brothers and sisters who lost everything. We coordinated with Caritas Manila and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan of the Jesuits and helped them prepare the packs of goods. We also cooperated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the government not only in the preparation of food parcels but also to welcome the survivors arriving in Manila from Tacloban and Samar. We were there to offer them a comforting word, an assurance of our prayers and our presence when they came down from the plane after such a terrible experience.
Survivors as they are welcomed at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.
THE FAITH OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE IS A GREAT TESTIMONY TO ALL OF US. HOW DO YOU LIVE IT? IS PRAYER THE FORCE THAT SUSTAINS YOU?
I think that the Faith is the milk we sucked from our mothers’ breast. And this is the great gift that we rediscovered in this Year of Faith, particularly after all the calamities we faced. It is prayer and our faith that has given us strength, made us steadfast and joyful despite all the sufferings caused by the earthquake and super-typhoon. Your solicitude and love for us in this time of great need is the tangible embrace of the Father who never abandons his children.
No, it is not only the faith of Filipinos, but the faith of all peoples, Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. Faced with a calamity of this magnitude they are able to forget their differences and be brothers and sisters to each other. If this is not faith, I do not know what it is.
So, in the name of all the Filipino Daughters of St Paul and all our people, we thank you from the depths of our heart for your participation in our pain and sorrows, and for all the help you have extended to us, both spiritual and material. But it doesn’t end here, because the survivors need to rebuild their lives: they need houses, schools, hospitals, work, courage and many other things besides. I echo the appeal of St Paul to the Christians of Galatia: “Let us not grow weary of doing good because at the proper time we will have a good harvest.”
Thank you so much!