11/18/2013, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipinos brave typhoon devastation with faith and charity

Filipinos collect basic necessities and hold prayer vigils in the country's parishes. PIME regional superior Fr Giovanni Re notes that faith and closeness to loves ones is expressed through help as well as prayer. In hard-hit areas, parishioners get together to start afresh. First Mass is held in ​​Tacloban and Guiuan.

Manila (AsiaNews) - As Filipinos collect aid and take part in prayer vigils for the victims, they have not lost hope as a result of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.

Fr Giovanni Re, regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), told AsiaNews that, in addition to organising humanitarian and economic aid, people have started to support each other through prayers for the victims of the typhoon.

"Last Friday, young people from different parishes held a vigil to pray for the victims and express their spiritual closeness," the priest said.

Many of them have relatives and friends in the Visayas Islands where the typhoon hit, Fr Re noted. "In the provinces of Leyte and Cebu, the Catholic religion is still the centre of community life and it is in tragic moments like the one that we are experiencing that people seek solace in faith."

Yesterday, parishes held Sunday Mass in the areas affected by the disaster that cost 3,900 lives so far. About 300 people in Guiuan, the first town to be hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, attended Sunday service in the courtyard of the ruined Immaculate Conception church.

Fr Arturo Cablao spoke to AFP about the community's strength of spirit, as parishioners - some of them silently weeping - stood among twisted roofing sheets, glass shards and mud.

"If there is no God, who else is there? He is our only hope," Bibeth Sabulao told AFP after she received communion at the service in Guiuan.

In Tacloban City, one of the most affected areas, hundreds of worshippers celebrated the Eucharist in the rubble of Santo Niño Church, praying, sitting on benches still soaked with the water left by the typhoon.

Fr Edwin Bacaltos, parish priest at the Redemptorist Church in Tacloban, noted that many of the faithful asked about the reasons of the disaster.

"I have not given them any theological interpretation," he said. "I listened and was silent. This is not the time to stop and think."

The clergyman said that he too had to struggle to make sense of the devastation and loss of life, but "This is not a punishment from God," he explained. "I told my parishioners that God still loves us and will not abandon us".

The most powerful typhoon in the history of the Philippines has not only caused havoc, but has also brought forth acts of solidarity from neighbouring countries such as China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, which have been at odds with Manila over territorial issues and support for Filipino separatist movements.

Malaysia, host to a number of Islamic separatist movements in Mindanao (southern Philippines), sent more than a million dollar in aid and its air force is involved in rescue operations.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia has delivered aid and sent two Navy helicopters to Tacloban.

China, which has sparred for years with the Philippines over the Spratly Islands (in the South China Sea), sent $ 1.6 million to purchase humanitarian aid - far lower than the US$ 30 million it sent to Japan when that country was hit by a tsunami in 2011.

By contrast, Japan's aid for the Philippines includes US$ 30 million, a 26-strong medical team, plus some 1,200 troops.

For the Japanese, this is a way to say thank you to the Filipino people because, as Joji Tomioka, coordinator of the Japan Medical Team for Disaster Relief, acknowledged, "The Philippines helped us during our hour of need in the tsunami" of March 2011. (S.C.)

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