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 Pag–asa 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!)
By Bro. Nathaniel D. Robilla, scj