Saturday, January 17, 2015

On faith, hope, and Pope Francis

Today started out like any other day. But what made today stand out was the fact that Pope Francis is set to visit our humble city.

The days, weeks, months after Yolanda were probably the lowest, bleakest points of our lives. We were unsettled, unsure. We lost lives, properties, loved ones. We were unable to see beyond the destruction, the despair. We worked on autopilot in the months that followed. Functioning, but not really living.

But time and time again, we Filipinos showed to the world that with faith, strength, and determination, along with the ability to smile even at the worst times, we are able to rise and move on. And months after Yolanda, that's what we did.

And as more and more typhoons come and go, as other calamities hit our planet, the destruction brought about by Yolanda becomes overshadowed by new ones. I'm not saying that it is being forgotten, but the significance of it lessens with each passing day. So it is up to us survivors to remember, not for us, but for those who perished in the hands of the storm.

That's why the Pope's visit is such a big honor. It is a reminder to us that we are not forgotten. During his homily, Pope Francis said that he may be a bit late in coming. But to us, it did not matter. What matters is he came.

Listening to his homily on tv, I was overcome with such emotion. I used to remember Yolanda with sadness and bitterness, but now I shall remember Yolanda with a smile because while it brought about destruction, it also led to something beautiful — a visit from His Holiness.

Today, my Mom and I woke up at three in the morning. Her friend's sister in law lives in Marasbaras, where the Pope's motorcade will pass on the way to Palo (I wanted to attend the mass at the airport, but my Dad didn't give me permission to go alone). We went to their house at around 5 AM, where we ate breakfast and watched the live coverage of the Pope's arrival and the mass on tv. When the mass ended and the Pope climbed into the Pope Mobile, we all went outside.

I was wearing nothing but a light t-shirt under a hoodie, jeans, and slippers. We were blasted by wind and rain, but we held our ground. Armed with our smartphones protected by Ziplocs from the downpour, we grinned in anticipation of seeing the Pope. And he did not disappoint. He passed by us with a big smile and waved, and though it happened all under 10 seconds, it was more than enough. 

We all went back inside to watch the coverage of his arrival at the Cathedral, and to warm up as we were freezing. And when Pope Francis announced that the pilot moved his time of departure for Manila to 1 PM due to the weather, I could tell that the Pope was reluctant to do so. He came here to eat with the survivors, bless the mass grave, bless the Center for the Poor, and it seems like his visit was being cut short.

Nonetheless, when we saw that he was climbing into his Pope Mobile once again, we all ran back outside to get another glimpse of him. And this time, there were very few people along the road, so we were positioned directly behind the barricade and was able to see him more closely. 

And oh boy, the second time was just as intense as the first one. I felt excited and peaceful at the same time.

And as I sit here at home, shivering under my blanket, one hand holding a mug of hot chocolate, the other furiously typing on my iPad.. I'd just have to say, even if I do get sick from standing in the rain and then later on letting my clothes air dry on myself, IT WAS DEFINITELY WELL WORTH IT.

Pope Francis' visit gave me hope, and it strengthened my faith even more. For if there are people like the Pope in this world, one that is selfless, humble, and generous.. Then there is definitely hope for humanity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

So it's been a while..

It's been more than a year since my last post, since Yolanda. And oh my, what a year it has been.

Our city's been through a lot — we were hit by the world's strongest typhoon, people and houses were washed out by the storm surge, looters ransacked what was left of those houses and groceries. Everybody felt despair, I'm sure of it. For I felt it, too. 

We were among the lucky ones who were able to leave for Manila earlier, where we stayed for three weeks. During those weeks, I felt nothing but helplessness, hopelessness, and homesickness. It felt like nothing will ever be right again. 

My Dad and I came home to Tacloban during the last week of November, and my Mom followed a couple of weeks later. But even the thought of being home didn't erase the hopelessness that was coursing through me.

But God never forsakes His people. During those dark days, my faith was the only thing I could cling to. So when it was announced that the Pope is sending his Papal Nuncio to spend Christmas with the Taclobanons, I felt something stir inside me. 

I woke up early on Christmas Day, and braved the throngs of people at Sto. Niño Church. My Mom and I found a seat at the center aisle, about four rows from the front. The bench was wet, and the roof was gone so rainwater was dripping on us and our butts were wet and freezing from the rainwater that pooled on the bench but we didn't care. We had a great view of the podium, and we were excited and privileged to be hearing mass from a representative of the Vatican.

When the Papal Nuncio came down the aisle, everybody looked in his direction. It was purely by chance, but as I was openly staring at him, he looked at me and smiled. It was in that moment when, more than a month after Yolanda, I finally felt peace. And hope. That better days and better things are coming.

So I focused on my family, on friends, and on work. Days turned to months, months turned to a year.. And Yolanda became nothing more than a part of our history.

During the past year, I finally found the courage to quit my job. My friend and I opened up a nail spa, and while it took everything we had to build a business together, we are very much determined to make it work. It's only been two months, so we shall have to see how far we can go.

Life's funny that way. Sometimes it throws us challenges and hurdles (and Yolanda was definitely a really big hurdle that took lives and destroyed houses and businesses, but just a hurdle nonetheless), but it doesn't throw us something we cannot handle.

Yes, it was a big tragedy. But we Filipinos rose from the destruction and proved once again to the world that we are a strong resilient breed. That we are able to smile and laugh even in the midst of tragedy, and that we are strong enough to build back the lives that we once had.

And that.. That makes me real proud to be Filipino.

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