A Call to Share Theological Reflections on God and Calamities in the Aftermath of Supertyphoon Haiyan
The Redemptorists in the Cebu Province in the Philippines, including their Tacloban community which has housed around 3000 survivors of the supertyphoon Haiyan, plan to mobilize all Redemptorist communities in the country to help in a long-term rehabilitation process (in coordination with other organizations). Recorded as the strongest typhoon on earth ever known to have hit landfall, Haiyan’s ferocious winds and the tsunami-like waves it spawned have destroyed 70-80 percent of structures in its direct path and caused the death of more than 5000 people.
Among their various objectives is to “accompany the people as they search for a meaning to the tragedies that they experienced through prayer sessions and liturgical celebrations (including rituals for laying to rest their dead loved ones), and in the process, deepen their faith in a compassionate God (rather than holding on to the notion of a punitive Deity).”
Since the group is preoccupied with the many details of the long-term rehabilitation plan, they have no time to gather biblical-theological materials and are calling for short articles, essays, reflection pieces (from one to seven pages, single-spaces) that can guide them in the preparation of their modules, prayer sessions and liturgical celebrations, and which respond to any of the following questions: “WHY GOD ALLOW CALAMITIES TO HAPPEN? WHAT KIND OF A GOD CREATED A WORLD WHERE EPIC TRAGEDIES TAKE PLACE? IS OUR GOD A GOD THAT PUNISHES? ARE TRAGEDIES MANIFESTATION OF A VULNERABLE GOD?”
October 17, 2013
Dear Jim and Colleagues in the CTEWC,
Perhaps you have learned by now about the earthquake that devastated my country. It occurred in my home island-province of Bohol and my hometown of Loon is most devastated.
More than fifty have died in my place and the count is expected to rise. Hundreds of homes and public buildings destroyed, including our town market and hospital. Relief and rescue are ongoing, and our resiliency, solidarity and faith in God are again put to the test.
To add more pain to the suffering, our huge and beautiful church is gone, reduced to rubble.
I was one of the many priests from our town who were baptized, confirmed, and ordained there.
It was the last place that I visited before I left home for Ireland.
It was also a "mother church" as it has given birth to four other parishes in our town.
My sister was spared, thanks perhaps to her quick thinking and my departed father's protection, she ran out of the house, wasting no time, at the first sign of the tremors. She now lives with neighbors in a tent in our big front yard. My relatives are all fine too, never minding the damaged properties and too grateful for another lease of life, the most precious gift of all.
The two dioceses in the island are shocked and devastated, not only because of the additional load our people have to carry in their daily lives, but also because we lost at least 5 of our Spanish-built churches, not to mention the 22 other old churches seriously damaged. The past fifteen years we did everything we could to preserve or restore and document this religious and cultural heritage. In 30 seconds they were gone. Maybe we should have focused first on structural reinforcements instead of fixing the roofs or restoring 17th century ceiling and wall paintings. But even the scientists did not see a 7.2 magnitude tremor coming, partly because these churches were a way off the Bohol fault-line. Fresh data after the earthquake however reveals, we were sitting above a bigger fault-line which even the US geological maps do not as yet show.
The most striking feedback I have thus far received is the absence of a discourse that blames a punishing God for the tragedy. There is none that I heard of. Instead faith is at the heart of their struggles to make sense of the tragedy. Beneath the rubble of our church firmly stands the statue of our patron, Mary, Our Lady of Light. And the people of Loon are drawing tremendous strength from her own "survival". And in front of the mountain of stones and debris, our parish priest placed a small table, covered it with white cloth, and placed a small statue of Mother Mary on top. She is now facing the huge church plaza and nearer to the people who are temporarily staying, sleeping, cooking, and praying there.
I am writing you to ask you and our academic community to kindly include my town folks and province mates in your community prayers and masses. If you feel like passing on this message to your circle of friends, please feel free.
I am attaching a few photos to give you an idea of the church devastation. For the rest you may access the internet.
Thank you and God bless!