Misa de Gallo in Kananga, Leyte

The Holy Family Parish in Kananga, Leyte experienced nostalgia and yet great joy in celebrating Christmas following Yolanda’s aftermath.  Last December 14 to 25, 2013, the Dehonian mission team of the Manila community composed of five scholastics from different stages of formation, namely, Bros. Nathaniel Robilla, Jose Patro Gier, Joseph Muego, Rogereve Pausanos, Dennis Macasero and Fr. Delio Ruiz,scj, our formator, spent eleven days in Holy Family Parish, Kananga, Leyte. We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Gil Logramonte, the Parish Priest, who gave us the privilege of witnessing Christ in the community of Kananga by living with them and celebrating Misa de Gallo (dawn mass) in the different chapels.

When we landed in Tacloban airport, we saw the place completely devastated by typhoon Yolanda. The Leyteños suffered the worst of Yolanda’s wrath which is the strongest typhoon thus far that ever hit the Philippine area of responsibility according to Pagasa statistics. We have seen for ourselves the havoc created by Yolanda on the town’s socio-economic condition. We witnessed some people queuing for relief goods and begging for food to anyone who passed by the roadside.

As we went around the different towns of Leyte, we observed that the coastal areas had been obliterated by the typhoon. I could just imagine the chaos, struggle and confusion in looking for a place of refuge at the height of Yolanda’s landfall in Leyte that fateful day. Wherever I looked I could find debris and ruins. The places affected looked like a war zone wherein buildings and houses have been completely destroyed and flattened to the ground as if a nuclear bomb hit the place.

As Tacloban and other coastal towns were inundated with the surge of sea water, Kananga only experienced the strong wind that carried away the roof of their houses and uprooted coconut trees, and the like.  Fortunately, the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), the well-known and biggest geothermal plant in the world located in Kananga that produces electricity for Visayas and Luzon, was able to resist and withstand Yolanda with few casualties. At present, EDC continues to provide light and power for the people in their yearning for quick restoration and rehabilitation.

I witnessed that the community maintained their resilience in facing life after the catastrophe, in the midst of rubbles and destructions. They remained strong like an acacia tree and rose up from desolation similar to a bamboo that bounces back after the passing of the strong wind.

“We are roofless, homeless but we are not hopeless” is the most touching slogan that I have read while visiting the places around Leyte. These words empower and give them hope to rebuild their life anew. I encountered people who were nostalgic of what had happened but few words of inspiration moved them to look forward to the future.

The community was sentimental but manifested greater joy of what is ahead of them. Celebrating Misa de Gallo ignited their spiritual nourishment, to stand firm and remain strong in their faith as we commemorate the birth of Christ in the midst of affliction. Rainy or fair weather, the church was overflowing with the faithful during the celebration of the dawn masses.

After the Misa de Gallo, all of us enjoyed partaking of the Pinoy traditional early morning snack which is called pandesal (bread) with matching hot coffee. I could skip breakfast but no way would I miss eating together with the elders and kids. The little bread we shared and the coffee we sipped were more precious moments than those I have experienced in classy coffee shops. The exchange of different survival typhoon stories was meaningful for me.  It was an opportunity for debriefing them from their traumas and the horrors they suffered because of Yolanda.  While they exchanged stories, they realized that amid their horrifying experience they recognized how God worked in their lives. As I listened to their stories, I was enraptured with joy when I heard their reflections.  It was for me a visible encounter of a true Eucharistic celebration… of what Jesus did with his disciples after the resurrection in the Galilee account. I witnessed that Christ was in their midst listening to their stories while sharing bread and coffee with one another.

Aside from Fr. Gil and Fr. Delio, SCJ, who celebrated Misa de Gallo in the different chapels, we, the scholastic brothers, were given the chance to celebrate the anticipated Liturgy of the Word in Barangays Tagaytay and Lim-ao.  These are places that could hardly be reached by the priests because of their tight schedules. Five of us brothers have been able to experience celebrating the Liturgy of the Word in two of the dozens of roofless chapels. When it rained, umbrellas were handy even inside the chapel. The nourishment of the Word of God had moved them to strengthen their solidarity with their neighbors in order for them to rise up and rebuild the new community that Christ has longed for.

After the Misa de Gallo, we had the chance to distribute the relief goods courtesy of the different organizations such as Sanlingkod ng Bayan, a Jesuit foundation, and Sagip Kapamilya of ABS-CBN Foundation and similar institutions. The goods were distributed to the different barangays that could not be reached by any relief operation. Our conversation with the survivors and words of encouragement lightened up their faces, and hopefully moved them to rebuild their lives.

The Kananga community may be roofless and homeless, but the spirit of Christmas dwells in their hearts… They remain hopeful. They may be melancholic because of their horrible experience, however, our stay and encounter with them during the MIsa de Gallo may have reminded them of the incarnation… that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among His people. This experience may be reminiscent of the true Eucharistic celebration that gives life and hope to the people.

The Misa de Gallo is celebrated at dawn and right after is the rising of the sun, emanating light to the world… a recreation of a new day.  May the Misa de Gallo be a symbol and source of hope, faith and life of the Kananga community.

Bangon Kananga! (Arise, Kananga!)

Merry Christmas!

By Bro. Nathaniel D. Robilla, scj

Pasko sa Opol – Christmas in Opol

Every December the SCJ postulants of the Sacred Heart Formation House would traditionally go through an immersion program for 10 days during the Christmas novena.

For this year we decided to hold the immersion in Mother of Divine Mercy Village in Opol, Misamis Oriental. The village is home to 326 families who survived Sendong. Actually, it is one of the relocation sites of the Sendong survivors. The congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart is one of the lead groups which helped establish this village.

On December 21, the 6th day of the immersion, the postulants were joined by the members of the Dehonian family–the youth & the lay group through the medical-dental-food and gift giving activities.

The families living in the village continue to struggle to survive in their daily life, coping without access to clean water and electricity. Thus, we decided that the outreach of the Dehonians be held in the village.

The mission focused on the children who were able to avail of free medical and dental services. The medicines prescribed were freely provided. The dental teams were from the Health Services Department of the Philippine National Police and Bureau of Fire Protection. The dentists performed tooth extraction to 100 children. Also to some adults. The medical team was from the Department of Health joined by 2 private doctors and a nurse. A pharmacist was likewise present who helped in the dispensation of medicines

The kids also enjoyed the food packs, loot bags, and games spearheaded by a group of teachers who collaborated in this affair. Some friends of the SCJs sponsored and gave popcorns and ice cream which delighted the children. They had a lot of fun.

The day was loaded with simultaneous activities courtesy of generous benefactors and friends of the SCJs. The lay and the youth groups provided assistance according to their assigned tasks.

The outreach was a success… an outpouring of generosity of time, treasure & talents of diverse groups united in their effort to provide service to Sendong survivors in Mother if Divine Mercy Village. Thanks be to God!

By: Fr. Andrew Sudol, scj

Typhoon “Sendong” – Second Anniversary

On December 16, 2013,  was the second anniversary of typhoon Sendong (international code name Washi). The dawn of December 17, 2011 marks the unforgettable tragedy in Cagayan de Oro City. Typhoon and strong flash flood cussed terrible disaster in the city. Hundreds were swelled by the river or died in the flood in their own houses caught by surprised during the darkness of night. Many houses, chapels, cars and electrical posts were completely destroyed and taken by the flood to the sea. Thousands of people became homeless and were affected because of hunger lowliness and worries. Most of the families in the city lost at least one member in this tragedy. It was a terrible tragedy.

We know today that more than 1,200 people perished in the flood. Damage to property, infrastructure and agriculture was estimated at almost PHP 1 Billion. Almost 9,000 families were left homeless.

Yesterday night there were celebrations throughout the city to commemorate this tragedy and to remember those who died. Also in the Village of the Mother of Divine Mercy, home of 320 families, survivors of Sendong, there was a simple but meaningful gathering and prayer. After a mass, during which all members of the village were present, we sent 12 lanterns to the skies. It was very symbolic guest to remember more than 12 hundreds those who died. In silence we sent and watched the lights that flew straight up to the skies like our prayer to heaven.

I this meaningful celebration took part the newly elected president of the Village, president of the chapel and many guests from the city.

Mother of Divine Mercy Village in details:

At this moment there are 320 families living in the houses (30 m square each) in the village. There is a deep well and the families have easy access to the water, but the water is not provided to every house. They have to fetch the water outside situated in a few places in the village. There is installed electricity and drainage system in the entire area of the village. Yet there is no electricity in every house but it will be provided within a few weeks. In the center of the village there is a large cask, covered area, which is used for different activities and meetings. Every Sunday there is a mass celebrated there.

The future plan for the Village includes 280 additional houses. It would enlarge the Village to become a home for 600 families. It is the original plan. Beside the houses there is a plan to build a chapel, kindergarten, sport playground and a market. All of these will depend on the generosity of our sponsors and benefactors. We are very happy with the development of the project of the Mother of Divine Mercy Village and it’s fast growth. Thank you for all that in anyway helped and supported this important project. God bless you.

By: Fr. Andrew Sudol, scj

Start of Novena de Gallo

SimbangGabiTomorrow, on December 16th, Filipino Catholics, not only in the Philippines but in many parts of the world as well, will start the novena in preparation for Christmas Day. As the term itself “novena” suggests, it is a nine-day celebration ending with Christmas Eve – hence, running from Dec. 16 up to Dec. 24. In most places, people attend a dawn Mass, which usually starts at 4:00 AM. This is traditionally called as Misa de Gallo (“Rooster’s Mass”). In some places, however, it is done in the evening and is thus called as Simbang Gabi (Evening or Night Mass).

Misa de Gallo traces its roots to Mexico when, in 1587, the pope granted the petition of Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, to hold Christmas Mass outdoors because the church could not accommodate the huge number of people attending the evening Mass.

Originally, it popularly came to be known as “Misa Aguinaldo”. De Aguinaldo means gift, which is peculiar to Christmas. That is why the faithful wake up early for nine days before Christmas to join in the celebration of the dawn Mass. The faithful make this their “Aguinaldo” to God for the great gift of Jesus. The practice can also be understood as the preparation of the faithful to receive from God the great gift or “Aguinaldo” of Christmas, which is Jesus, the savior of the world.

Why Misa de Gallo? Usually the rooster crows at the break of dawn. During the old times, farmers as well as fishermen used the roosters as their alarm clock. So upon the first crow of the rooster they wake up early to drop by the church before going to their work and ask for the grace of good harvest. Originally the Mass was celebrated for them. These nine dawn Masses are also considered as a novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Catholic faithful. This refers to the Roman Catholic practice of performing nine days of private or public devotion to obtain special graces. In traditional Catholic belief, completing the novena is also supposed to mean that God might grant the devotee’s special wish or favor. When Pope Sixtus V decreed through a papal bull that these dawn masses be held annually in the Philippines, Misa de Gallo has become one of the most popular traditions in the country. Filipino Catholics would always bring this ingrained devotion and cultural faith-expression as one defining mark of their Catholic identity wherever they go, even if their sociological conditions and lifestyles have changed. It is a significant moment not only because it strengthens relationships among family members and parishioners but also because it is the time where our faith is intensified. This is the time where we mostly feel the presence of the Lord because it is the spiritual preparation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. It does not matter if one has the stamina to complete the novena or not, what really matters is what is inside the heart. The blessing does not depend on the number of Masses attended, but what is important is the disposition of the person who receives the Lord’s blessing.

In the Philippines, the streets are lighted up with lanterns (the parol), signifying the star that led the wise men to Jesus:  Jesus is the only true Light of salvation for all of creation.  In the villages, streets, homes and chapels are decorated with fresh fruits, like bananas, and passersby may just freely pick them for food: all of creation participate in the abundant generosity and joyful hospitality of God.  The people are roused from sleep by the tolling of the church bells at 2:00 am, and a band may roam around the village streets to proclaim a new day of joy:  the Kingdom of God is at hand, and Mary, the Dawn of Salvation, has ushered it in.  Churches and chapels overflow with people, as whole families attend the Misa de Gallo: a new community is gathered around the Eucharist, an eschatological family-community centered on Jesus, Savior and Lord.    The festive mood goes back to the homes after the mass, as people partake of their breakfast delicacies with families, neighbors and friends until sunrise of the new day: for liturgy is a celebration of life, and a new way of living celebrated in festive meal points to the glorious meal in heaven.

Typhoon victims find comfort in Christmas tradition

1386924017Thad Hinunangan lost his home, friends, and many of his neighbors to Super Typhoon Haiyan, but there will be no stopping him from anticipating the joy of Christmas during the “Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster)” on Monday.

“Attending will show the world that our faith is stronger than the storm, and proves that Warays are a tough bunch,” Hinunangan told ucanews.com.

Warays are native to the provinces of Samar and Leyte that were badly hit by Typhoon Haiyan on November 8.

The Misa de Gallo, which has become a Filipino tradition since the arrival of Spanish colonizers 400 years ago, is a novena of dawn Masses from December 16 to Christmas Eve.

The celebration is held as early as 3 am in several provinces. Pope Sixtus V ordered that the Mass be heard before sunrise because it was the harvest season in the Philippines, and farmers needed to be in the fields immediately after the celebration.

Filipinos believe that if one completes all nine days of the Misa de Gallo and makes a wish as part of the prayers, it will come true.

During the nine-day celebration Filipinos adorn their homes with star-shaped lanterns called “parol,” which were believed to help parishioners before electricity was invented, to make their way to church in the early morning.

After Mass, Filipino families share rice cakes, pastries, and other delicacies and drink hot chocolate.

Hinunangan said the disaster, and the fact that thousands of people have been left homeless and large parts of the city still in darkness, has made this year’s Misa de Gallo “more meaningful.”

“It is more fitting to celebrate Christmas during this time of crisis knowing that a savior was born to us to save us,” said Father Amadeo Alvero, spokesman of Palo archdiocese.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle described Misa de Gallo as “a great source of spiritual nourishment for our faithful.” He, however, urged priests in a recent circular to celebrate the Mass with “genuine pastoral care for the spiritual benefit of the faithful.”

Despite a curfew that ends at 5am in many parts of Samar and Leyte, Alvero said the Church will continue to hold the Misa de Gallo in parishes at 4am.

“The authorities will understand our schedules because this is a tradition,” the priest said.

Chief Superintendent Henry Losañes, the regional police chief, said he will discuss “security preparations” with Church leaders. “We will be adjusting the curfew so that churchgoers will be able to attend the Masses,” he said.

In Tacloban, Christmas lanterns and Christmas trees are being put up amid the ruins and around churches while soldiers, who have been involved in the cleanup around the province, play Christmas carols on a portable sound system.

“We’re trying to play Christmas songs to help lift their spirits,” said Brigadier General Jet Velarmino, head of Task Force Yolanda, which is helping in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Leyte province.

Tacloban city administrator John Tecson Lim said the authorities are planning a “meaningful” Christmas for the people. “What is important however is we must continue to hold on, to have hope and work together,” he said.

On Friday, the official death toll from Super Typhoon Haiyan passed the 6,000 mark, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The number of fatalities had reached 6,009, with 27,022 injured and 1,779 still missing.

In its latest report, the agency said Haiyan affected some 16 million people in 12,122 villages, displacing some 3.9 million individuals, 101,646 of them are still staying in 383 evacuation centers.

Joe Torres and Ronald Reyes, Tacloban City
December 13, 2013

Typhoon victims find comfort in Christmas tradition.